For the first time all season, the Cal women’s swimming team was losing.
No. 3 USC had just won the first two events of the meet on Friday in Los Angeles when senior Liv Jensen unexpectedly won the 200 yard freestyle. She set a pace that her teammates would follow en route to a 162-138 victory.
The weekend trip to Southern California was only the first in a long train of road meets for the Bears.
Despite losing the medley relay, the squad utilized its resilience and mental toughness to come back and take the meet in a fashion similar to last year’s NCAA Championships.
“We got down early but we were able to fight really hard and come back,” associate head coach Kristen Cunnane said. “It was very cool because the team, led by the seniors, figured it out on their own.”
However, Jensen wasn’t satisfied with merely winning the 200 yard freestyle. She continued to lead the pack in the 50 and 100 yard freestyles, and she anchored the 400 yard freestyle relay.
“(Jensen) single-handedly turned the meet around,” Cunnane said. “It really gives us a lot of experience and we know what to expect for the future now.”
For the Bears, a vital component of gaining experience involves racing — and winning — multiple days in a row. The day after Cal defeated USC it took on nearby UCLA in a meet that was once again dominated by Jensen, as well as junior Cailtlin Leverenz.
Leverenz won the 100 and 200 yard breastrokes, and the 200 yard individual medley, while Jensen took home the 50 and 100 yard freestyles. The Bears went on to steal 11 of the 16 events at the dual meet, easily topping the Bruins, 177-122.
“I think it’s hard to travel and win two meets back-to-back like we just did,” Cunnane said. “The girls are very mature and really come through when they need to.”
Although these two victories, coupled with those against No. 5 Arizona and No. 24 Arizona State the previous week, have put the Bears in good shape for the rest of the season, the team does not plan to slow the momentum heading into the home stretch of the season.
Cal still faces a highly-anticipated matchup versus No. 8 Stanford and the Pac-12 Championships before it can focus on the NCAA Championships. The Bears are ranked No. 2 in the country, but they still has many things to work on, most notably turns and starts.
“I can’t say that at this point, we will repeat (as national champions),” Cunnane said. “We are just going to maintain focus on ourselves because if we perform the results will come.”