Rainbow Warriors a barometer for Cal in season debut

On Oct. 9, 2009, the Cal men’s swimming team opened the season against Hawaii with a 156-139 win. The narrow victory was the closest of the Bears’ five dual meet wins on the year, and Cal would go on to finish No. 2 at the NCAA championships, just missing out on a national title.

Why does this matter? Because as the Bears again open their dual meet season at Spieker Aquatics Center on Thursday against Hawaii, the Rainbow Warriors could be a barometer of Cal’s skill level — and a harbinger of good things to come.

“Hawaii has always been a really good program — very solid on the boards, very solid in their events,” Cal head coach David Durden said. “You know that they’re going to be well-coached coming into the meet.”

The Rainbow Warriors, also competing in their first dual meet of the 2011-12 season today at noon, are coming off a season in which they won the Conference USA Invitational Championship — the first conference championship in the school’s history. Three Hawaii swimmers advanced to last year’s NCAA championships, including current junior Luca Mazzurana, who holds program and Conference USA records in the 100 and 200 butterfly. Mazzurana also won the closest of the 16 events in Hawaii’s 2009 meet with Cal, edging out five-time NCAA champion Graeme Moore in the 100 butterfly by a mere 0.02 seconds.

The Bears also return talent from the 2009 meet —13 of their swimmers from the meet will participate Thursday, including 10 All-Americans. Although junior Tom Shields will not be available on Thursday due to personal reasons, seniors Nolan Koon (200 breaststroke) and Martin Liivamagi (200 individual medley) are among the returning Cal swimmers who won events. Even though the Bears won only eight of the 14 swimming events on that day, they return talent from each of them. Hawaii is upperclassman heavy; a majority of its roster participated in the 2009 meet. The Rainbow Warriors return much of last year’s roster in addition to seven new freshmen.

But it’s not just returning swimmers who have the Bears excited. For Cal’s freshmen, this will be their first home meet. Durden says he’s been impressed by many of the younger swimmers in recent practices.

“We’re looking forward for a lot of our guys racing their first home dual meet,” Durden said. “Anytime you do something for the first time on a new team, it has a little bit of importance for you.”

The Bears have only had one competition to date — the Cal Poly “King of the Pool” event on Sept. 23 and 24. Sophomore Marcin Tarczynski was named “King of the Pool”, and a number of Bears turned in strong performances. But this will be squad’s first chance to compete in front of a home crowd.

“We’ve got some really good guys just to sit back and watch race,” Durden said. “And we’ll make it fun. We’re looking forward to a good, fun afternoon.”