Bears travel to Long Beach to face Stanford in Arena Invitational

While football will fight to bring home the axe this weekend, Cal women’s swimming will battle for the golden goggles.

Ok, so those do not actually exist.

But the bragging rights at stake when any Bear faces any Stanford team sure do. And the rivalry is even fierier when such a face-off coincides with the Big Game.

This showdown will occur at the Arena Invitational in Long Beach from Thursday through Saturday. UC San Diego will host the event at the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool.

To make things more interesting, defending national champion Cal and No. 7- ranked Stanford are two of the top teams in the nation. The intensity of the competition between the two teams will surely complement the traditional rivalry and produce a thrilling struggle for dominance.

It is the No. 2 Bears’ first invitational meet of the season, following a 3-0 dual-meet run this fall. Stanford is coming off its first loss of the season, which it suffered at the hands of Florida earlier this month. Stanford is the defending champion of the Arena Invitational, having edged out the Bears last season.

While the competition looks to be the best Cal has faced yet this season, Cunnane emanates a calm and undaunted air. She notes teams such as No. 23 Arizona State,  No. 25 UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State as fellow competitors in the field of 16, yet emphasizes the fact that the Bears’ main goals are to gain experience in an invitational setting.

“It will have the same set up as NCAAs do,” Cunnane said. “It will be good practice for us and it allows us to watch the girls in a race that is an invitational setting and see how they do.”

The team is coming off a strong showing at the dual meet against Washington State,  where a lot of the younger members had standout races. Catherine Breed shined in her Cal debut with a pair of back-to-back wins after spending most of the fall competing in the Pan American Games in Mexico, where she won two gold medals. Along with her freshman teammates, this will be Breed’s first oppertunity to race in an invitational setting for coach Teri McKeever.

“This meet is more to see where we are,” Cunnane said. “I’m excited to see how our freshman do in a race like this because they have only raced dual meets before.”

Not only is the team looking to gain experience, but they hope to foster some team bonding as well. The Bears have a unique ritual that they partake in every year when they journey down to Long Beach.

“We have a good tradition of swimming in the ocean in the morning,” Cunnane said. “The whole team goes and does a beach workout, which is really unique. I don’t know of any other programs willing to swim in a freezing cold ocean before racing, so it’s really fun.”

While invitational experience and team bonding will be side benefits, the main goal remains to go out and swim strong and have a successful meet.

And to beat Stanford, of course.