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Star-studded Cal Men's Swimming and Diving Ready For More
Cal on a quest for a fourth-consecutive conference championship.
With the success Cal has had under head coach Dave Durden, it’s as though the season doesn’t start until the championship meets. For the team, the regular season is about fun and light-hearted racing while the pool deck is filled with fully-grown beards and a squad of tight-knit teammates jumping into the pool as though they were frogs. Like their top rival for most of the last decade (Texas), the Bears don’t have to show their full cards throughout the regular season to make it through unscathed.
The Bears are 2-0 for the season with wins over in-state rivals USC and Stanford, having not lost a regular season meet since 2018. While Stanford has improved from the last few years especially with a strong freshmen group, this season was yet another without a tough intra-conference opponent for Cal. As it was for the women’s team, the focus this season was on making sure the Bears had chances to race and fine-tune some of the highly technical elements to racing in their limited competition schedule this past season. While it’s hard to say for certain that the Cal swimmers took full advantage of it, they certainly look sharp and ready to hunt more hardware in March.
Hopefully it’s been abundantly clear; setting or tying pool records or school dual-meet records during the regular season, which the Bears did five times this season, doesn’t matter unless they’re also personal bests and indicative of significant improvement. Swimming is all about hitting your personal-best times at the right meet and that’s what Cal did in 2019 to win the most recent NCAA Championship. So, the expectation isn’t for the Bears to drop time at the Pac-12 Conference Championship as much as it is to get their bodies accustomed to the grueling schedule of a 4-day championship meet where the top swimmers could be racing as much as 14 times (no one will hit more than 10 this year due to changes in format for public safety concern reasons).
In the quest to a fourth-consecutive conference title and an attempt to defend their national crown (last year’s was canceled), Cal has a couple questions left to answer in preparation for their clash of the titans with Texas later in March. Although reliable sprinters Pawel Sendyk and Michael Jensen are now gone, the core of that title-winning team—the now seniors who were the highest scoring group at the 2019 NCAA Championship—still remains. Daniel Carr, Bryce Mefford, Trenton Julian, Sean Grieshop, and Ryan Hoffer (all seniors) are as deadly of a quintet in the sport. Combined, they have a good footprint at the highest levels of freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, and individual medley with a realistic possibility of 5-6 NCAA titles among that group.
That group doesn’t include junior Reece Whitley who is one of the top all-around breaststroke specialists in the country. Nor does it include the incredibly versatile redshirt junior Hugo Gonzalez, who has already qualified for the Spanish Olympic team. At the moment, this group holds the top seed in 8 individual events (there are 13 individual swimming events). Freshman Destin Lasco, the next in a very long line of backstroke talents in Berkeley, holds the other two top seeds that Cal currently has on the psych sheet. But, this almost understates how talented the group really is. Just look at the 200-yard individual medley—the Bears don’t currently have the number one spot in the conference, but they do have the #3, #4, #5, #7, #8, #11, #12, #14, and #16 spots in the race. While a few of them may not end up swimming this race, there’s a very realistic chance that a Cal swimmer could take the individual title here.
With seven swimmers already a proven commodity at the collegiate championship level, it’s already apparent that it’s swimmers 8 through 16 that will decide the calculus of Cal’s season. A few of them are already clear—one will certainly be the aforementioned Lasco, who, despite being a freshman, is already one of the top backstroke specialists in the country. Number 9 is former-ACC champion and distance freestyler Zach Yeadon, an elite transfer from Notre Dame. Swedish freshman Bjorn Seeliger already looks to be the heir-apparent to former Polish sprinter Pawel Sendyk. But, who are the 11th through 16th swimmers and can they contribute meaningful swims throughout March? This is their chance.
Cal’s diving team hasn’t provided reliable scoring at the NCAA Championships, which often means that the Bears need high-end swimming depth to compete against Texas. This Cal squad, like the one in 2019, has that talent. They don’t have the glaring swimming weaknesses so if the cylinders are firing correctly, it’s a scary team to stare down. But, it all starts in Houston, where even if the Bears are holding back slightly, they should be the runaway favorites for a fourth-consecutive conference title.