Facing relentless rain, shivering cold and the top-ranked team in the country, the No. 6 Cal men’s swim team left its home pool looking drenched, exhausted and overmatched for the first time all year.
It’s a good thing for the Bears that it’s only January.
Cal (3-1) lost its first dual meet of the season, 191-107, at Spieker Aquatics Center on Friday to an Arizona squad that looked deserving of its No. 1 ranking. But the Bears rebounded on Saturday, following up with a thorough 158-128 win over Arizona State in a meet that was never in doubt.
“Arizona was a really good, sharp team today, and they outswam us,” said Cal coach David Durden on Friday. “We’ve got to … take our races and figure out how to be better over the next month and a half to two months.”
All four events Cal won against the Wildcats (5-0) were by freshmen or sophomores. Freshman Adam Hinshaw and sophomore Jeremy Bagshaw won the two longest events of the day, taking the 1000 free and 500 free, respectively. Freshmen Tyler Messerschmidt and Seth Stubblefield finished 1-2 in the 100 free, separated by just 0.07 seconds.
“Bags and Adam have been training really, really well,” Durden said. “It was good for our younger guys, in a dual meet setting like this, to step up and race. All things considered, I thought it was really, really impressive as a whole.”
With an eye towards the Pac-12 and NCAA Championships, the Bears’ training schedule is set with March in mind. Cal’s times at this point in the season aren’t necessarily reflective of the team’s overall ability. The Bears aren’t worried about their results as much as they are with steady improvement. All-American junior Tom Shields, who lost two events by a combined 0.19 seconds, is a testament to that.
“He’s going to go out and be national champion in all of those races,” senior Mathias Gydesen said of the four-time NCAA champion. “Without a doubt.”
Senior Nolan Koon’s performance exemplified how times are viewed in context of the season. Though his fourth-place time of 54.87 in the 100 breast was more than three seconds off his career best, it was over a second faster than his time in the same meet last year.
“I thought Nolan Koon had a heck of a meet,” Durden said. “And that’s not going to show up in the results … (He) knows how to handle the position that he’s in right now.”
Cal also has a precedent in past years for improving after tough losses. Two years ago, the Bears lost a dual meet to Arizona, then came back and finished ahead of them at the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments. Last year, Cal’s only dual meet loss came against Stanford. But at the end of March, the Bears finished NCAA Champions.
“We came out here and we took a couple of punches yesterday but we’re still smiling,” Gydesen said. “We’re still happy. We believe in everything.”