In its Pac-12 season opener this weekend, the Cal women’s swimming team is slated to take on Oregon State — twice.
The No. 1 Bears will swim against the Beavers on Friday in Corvallis, Ore., and again on Saturday on the Nike Campus in Beaverton, Ore. Both are identical dual meets, except in different locations.
“This is our first time going up to Oregon State for a race event, so I’m excited to see their pool,” assistant coach Kristen Cunnane said. “We’re also swimming on the Nike Campus and that will be a great racing opportunity for the girls.”
Pac-10 championships notwithstanding, the last time Cal raced against Oregon State was in 2005. The then-No. 5 Bears won 12 of 14 events and posted 31 season-best times to defeat the visiting Beavers 167-91.
However, both Cal and Oregon State are very different teams than they were six years ago. Since 2005, the Bears have won two NCAA titles. The Beavers meanwhile are still in the conference cellar, as they finished last in the eight-team 2011 Pac-10 Championships.
There are signs of hope in Corvallis, as Oregon State’s new recruits are strong distance and middle distance freestyle swimmers, adding depth to the team. The Beavers’ freshmen are expected to bolster the team and end last season’s 2-9 losing streak. Delise Batiza and Dakota Bloch swim the 200- to 1,760-yard freestyle, while Alli Gillespie and Shelby Webber swim the 50- to 500-yard freestyle.
Cal welcomes nine talented freshmen of its own to the team. Although Cal recently competed against Cal Poly, the Oregon State meet will be the first opportunity to see the freshmen race against a Pac-12 team and for returning veterans to get back in the water and swim against high-level competition.
“I’m just excited to get back in the water and race again,” senior swimmer Shelley Harper said.
The Bears’ recent success is also cause for excitement.
Junior Caitlin Leverenz, a national champion with Cal’s two medley relays last March, won the Queen of the Pool title for the third straight year after producing the lowest combined time in five 100-yard events. Leverenz also swam the fastest the 100-yard breaststroke (1:02.65) and 100-yard individual medley (56.79) at Cal Poly.
Senior Liv Jensen took the 100 freestyle (50.23) and senior Sara Isakovic captured the 100 butterfly (54.98) at the meet. Jensen is not only the squad’s captain, but also the 2009 NCAA 50-yard freestyle champion who anchored all five relays at the 2011 NCAA Championships. Isakovic was the 2008 Olympic silver medalist in the 200-meter freestyle.
The results of this weekend’s meets will gauge both teams’ capabilities and foretell future results against other Pac-12 swimming teams.
“We’re going to see these people at the Pac-12 Championships at the end of the year,” Cunnane said. “So this is a good chance to race them before then and see where we are as a team.”