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Cal Women’s Swimming wins three titles at the Pac-12 Championships
Led by Leah Polonsky's double in the two IM events, Cal won three Pac-12 titles to finish 3rd as a team
In an alternate universe where Teri McKeever is a good and empathic coach, this article might be about how the addition of Canadian Olympian graduate transfer Maggie Mac Neil, a rebound year for Great Britain “Calympian” Alicia Wilson, and the continued improvement of Isabel Ivey is leading up to an exciting NCAA Championship. Of course, even the casual Cal fans probably know about the whole Teri McKeever scandal. Instead, Maggie Mac Neil has been breaking all sorts of sprint/fly records for LSU this season and both Isabel Ivey and Alicia Wilson are taking the year off from collegiate swimming to graduate transfer to Florida and Texas, respectively, and swim next year.
Back to the 2023 team, Cal Bears did retain the majority of the team despite everyone going into the transfer portal when the McKeever news broke. A combined men’s and women's swimming team under Dave Durden with the addition of David Marsh as the women’s coach gave Cal credibility, even if this was only a one-year solution with the long-term future to be determined1. Heading into the NCAA tournament, a top-15 team finish (and about 60 Director’s Cup points2) is a very realistic expectation.
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Cal Women’s Swimming raced in the Pac-12 Championships last week.
Golden Bears touched the wall first in the very first event: the 200 medley relay.
Check out this exciting race below.
From our Swim writer Christopher Zheng:
With her arms extended out atop the starting block of lane five, Cal sophomore McKenna Stone waited for teammate and fellow sophomore Mia Kragh to touch the wall with the last stroke of her butterfly leg. Stone, alongside USC fifth-year (and former Bear) Elise Garcia, UCLA fifth-year (and one of the top sprint freestylers in the country) Claire Grover, and Stanford redshirt senior (and Canadian Olympian) Taylor Ruck, must perfectly time their starts so that the body is in motion but the tip of their toe is still touching the starting block when the swimmer in the water touches the wall. Stone has a .19 and .4 seconds advantage over the USC and Stanford swimmers but a well-time relay start could mean tenths of seconds in the race.
Stone never conceded the advantage. After lunging at the wall with her final stroke, Stone turned her head toward the digital board as the race was too close to determine with the naked eye. The quartet of junior Isabelle Stadden, senior Jade Neser, Kragh, and Stone came away with their first win of the Pac-12 Conference Championship on the first event of the meet in the 200-yard medley relay—a fantastic start to the championship season after a tumultuous off-season.
On Thursday and Friday, Cal again reached the top of the podium thanks to the swims of sophomore Leah Polonsky.
Polonsky held off teammate Stadden for the 200 IM win on Thursday.
Polonsky then won the 400 IM on Friday to complete the double.
Both of Leah Polonsky’s winning IM times of 1:54.02 for 100y IM and 4:05.27 400y IM are just short of the NCAA A-Standards (1:53.66 for 100y IM and 4:03.62 for 400y IM) although they are currently the 7th and 9th best times in the country. She will likely need to shave some more time off to make the A-Finals of these events at the NCAA.
In addition to the three victories, Cal also finished 2nd in 800 Free relay (Motekaitis, Spitz, Polonsky, Klinker), 200 Free relay (Davidson, Stadden, Stone, Riley), 400 Medley relay (Stadden, Polonsky, Kragh, Davidson), 400 Free relay (Spitz, Davidson, Stadden, Riley), 100 and 200 Back (Stadden), and 100 Fly (Kragh). Cal placed third in 200 Back (McEnroe) and 200 Fly (Klinker).
Cal junior Isabelle Stadden was dethroned from her back-to-back 200 Back Pac-12 dominance by Stanford freshman Claire Curzan. Stadden’s time of 1:48.75 was the second-best in the country behind only Curzan (1:47.43). Curzan also broke Cal great Kathleen Baker’s record in this swim. Nevertheless, Cal’s best bet at an NCAA title remains Stadden in the 200 Back.
While Cal mostly stayed in 2nd place behind Stanford for the bulk of the competition, USC’s dominance in breaststroke and diving (Cal had no divers) allowed the Trojans to narrowly overtake the Bears in the end. Stanford’s Olympian Torri Huske was named the Swimmer of the Meet for winning 50 Free, 100 Free, 100 Fly, and all four relays.
Final Team Standings:
Arizona State 837
Washington State 420
Up next for the Cal Bears is the 2023 NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships at the University of Tennessee on March 15-18.
We will have more swimming coverage later this week when Cal men hit the pool. Golden Bears are going for a 6th straight Pac-12 title but will have some stiff competition from Arizona State.
Cal diver Joshua Thai already competed in the three diving events this past week. Thai placed 7th in 1-meter, 8th in 3-meter, and 4th in platform. Cal should have a slim points lead over ASU, but a deficit to Stanford, from the three diving events.
With Cal Aquatics being well-funded, Cal AD Jim Knowlton is unlikely to screw this up.
One of many flaws of the Director’s Cup is how little it rewards the championship-winning teams, who get the max 100 points.