What do you do when you see a Golden Bear? There’s a “rule of thumb” that I’ll paraphrase slightly, “If it’s a black bear, fight back. If it’s a brown bear, lay down. If it’s a polar bear, say goodnight.” Well, I say, if it’s a golden bear, get out of the way. Golden bears may not be the fastest or the most vicious, but there’s a lot of us and we’re coming.
There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about Cal’s chances to take home their 7th NCAA title given their history of performing better at the NCAA Championships and Texas’ smallest diving contributions in years. Swimming is a hard sport to predict because the rest, shave, and taper process for elite athletes leading up to the championship isn’t a perfect science. Elite coaches such as Dave Durden (Cal) and Eddie Reese (Texas) tend to have a pretty good pulse on how to have their swimmers at their peaks, but even then their respective team members don’t always hit their best times at the championship meets.
Despite the Bear’s history of performing well at the NCAA Championships, it took an almost otherworldly performance in 2019 to surpass Texas for the first time since 2014 (Texas won every other championship since then). With no divers competing again, the Bears will rely heavily on the leadership of fifth-year seniors Daniel Carr, Bryce Mefford, Trenton Julian, and Sean Grieshop, who were each integral parts of their last championship, to score at least 30-35 individual points along with superb relay swims by Carr and Julian at the very least.
With such a long meet still ahead, how can we tell if Cal has what it takes to win it all especially since Texas will very likely be ahead in the standings until the final session if the Bears manage to win it all? Even though the Longhorns finished ahead of Cal in both opening-night relays, this was an excellent start for the Bears with a 29-point improvement over their seed opposed to Texas’ 16. If at least 3 (hopefully all) Cal swimmers with no or limited NCAA experience such as freshmen Gabriel Jett, Robin Hanson, and Jack Alexy, sophomore Tyler Kopp, and junior Jason Louser are improving upon their seed tomorrow morning, it is precisely the indicator that you should get out of the way as there’s a … sleuth of golden bears barreling through all obstacles.
Team Scores (After 2 Events)
NC State 57
Stanford/Arizona State 54
Virginia Tech 28
200-yard Medley Relay
Coming in as the 12th-fastest team in the country, Cal was like the mystery flavored lollipop you were not sure you were adventurous enough to peel off the wrappers as a young child. But, when you did, you quickly realized that there is no mystery—the mystery was just one of the other flavors you could normally enjoy. The Bears swam in the penultimate heat, with 3 schools (Harvard, Virginia, and Auburn) already faster than their season’s best time, and unleashed their first wrench in the NCAA Championship.
Swedish sophomore Björn Seeliger led off the quartet in 20.08 seconds, which eclipsed Cal legend Ryan Murphy’s best leading off the medley relay and the fastest time in history, and was followed by junior transfer Liam Bell on the breaststroke (22.71), fifth-year senior Trenton Julian (20.12), and Daniel Carr (18.78). The Bears ultimately tied NC State as winners in the second-to-last heat, but it was fast enough to hold up as a tie for 3rd overall after Florida and Texas took down the NCAA record for first and second place, respectively. That gives Texas 34 points to Cal’s 31 points, which means the Longhorns improved 4 points on their seed while the Bears added 21 points.
800-yard Freestyle Relay
Part of what’s so deceiving about Cal and Texas in swimming is that the Longhorns were seeded 4th coming into today, but it was no surprise that they would take down the NCAA and American records in this relay. While Texas, Georgia, and Florida jumped out to an early lead after the leadoff, the Cal quartet, from the outermost lane, put together four consistent legs with fifth-year senior Trenton Julian, freshman Robin Hanson, freshman Gabriel Jett, and sophomore Destin Lasco splitting between 1:31.54 and 1:31.96. Ultimately, Cal finished in fourth behind Texas, Georgia, and Stanford, but the improvement in time and place from their seed is precisely what the Bears need if they are to complete their quest for a national championship.