Cal hosts tough Arizona schools

This weekend, the No. 2 Cal women’s swim team will play its last home meet of the season, which the squad hopes to finish in similar fashion to how it ended last year: with a National Championship.

The Bears have not competed in over a month and are immediately thrust into a highly anticipated national showdown. They will match up against No. 5 Arizona on Friday at 1 p.m. at Spieker Aquatics Center before facing No. 24 Arizona State on Saturday at noon. The Sun Devils in particular have given Cal much trouble recently.

“This (Arizona State) team is one that we really struggled against last year,” associate head coach Kristen Cunnane said. “We had to have a team meeting to make sure we were all on the same page.”

This time around, the team will face two very tough competitors, along with the problem of readjusting to balancing classes and swim at the same time. Cal (3-0, 3-0 in Pac-12) has not had an individual matchup against a team since it topped Washington State on Nov. 11.

“We are at a weird part of the season right now,” Cunnane said. “This will be a really good test for us to see where we are at, and it can show us how we compare.”

How quickly the team’s frame of mind has changed. Just a couple weeks ago, Cal was in Hawaii taking a practice trip to the islands for 10 days; now it faces one of its most challenging dual meets, going into the more stressful part of the season with the weight of last year’s success on its shoulders.

“Right now, we are not comparing too much to last year,” Cunnane said. “We want to try and focus on being the best team that we can be instead of trying to recreate last year.”

Recreating last year would be very difficult for Cunnane and the coaching staff, as Cal lost senior standouts Erica Dagg, Hannah Wilson and National Champion Amanda Simms to graduation last spring.

Despite these losses, the coaching staff believes that it can repeat last year’s success and bring home a third national championship in five years.

Much of that will begin with Catherine Breed, who has been selected to compete in the Pan-American games for the United States.

“As a team, we are stronger in some areas and weaker in others (compared to last year),” Cunnane said. “It forces us to do better in different events and come together as a team.”

The coaches have had to create a more balanced team to try to play up to their strengths this year. The Bears look to start that with a marquee win against two of the nation’s best teams before losing their own home pool advantage for the rest of the year.

“This part of the season is really tough, so we tell them to take it one day at a time,” Cunnane said. “Right now, we really want to use the home crowd to our advantage.”