In a season filled with many memories of last year’s NCAA championship-winning Cal women’s swim team, none are stronger than this: a thrilling, 155-145 victory against rival Stanford in the Big Meet to close out the regular season. This time, the No. 1 Bears travel to Palo Alto to take on the injury-riddled No. 8 Cardinal.
This dual meet, the last of its kind for both teams this season, will kick off at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Avery Aquatics Center. Cal (7-0, 7-0 in the Pac-12) looks to complete its first undefeated regular season since 2006, when it went 11-0 but finished fourth at the National Championships.
Staying focused on practicing their fundamentals and not looking too far into the future may be the most important thing right now for the Bears, who have proven they can come up big in the moment. They fought back after losing the first two events against No. 7 USC, winning the meet 162-138.
“We are really trying to just keep our work up right now,” said associate head coach Kristen Cunnane. “We haven’t really talked about the meet yet; that’s something we’ll do when the time comes.”
Cunnane and the rest of the coaching staff have been working with the team on trying to get down the basic skills that could change the meet, such as starts and turns. The whole squad is gearing up for a close meet, one that could be an indicator of how future events could go.
“This is definitely going to be a hard meet for us,” Cunnane said. “We are anticipating it will be close, since Stanford’s rank doesn’t indicate their talent level.”
Indeed, the Stanford squad has used its depth to overpower opponents such as USC, winning 160.5-139.5 despite having fewer first-place finishes. The Cardinal are led by sophomore Maya DiRado and senior Sam Woodward. DiRado is the reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, while Woodward owns the nation’s second fastest time in the 100-fly.
The intensity of the match will be extremely high due to the level of competition and rivalry, but also because of the results that both teams had last year. The Bears were obviously the biggest winners, holding the national championship, but Stanford has its own title of Pac-12 Champion.
Due to the strength of competition, emotions will undoubtedly be high, and in rivalry games such as the Big Meet, all odds are off. To win, Cal’s seniors must step up and lead by example to help keep the team cool and come through in big moments, as it has done in the past at USC and at the Arena Invitational in Long Beach.
“Every single race in this meet is going to be important, from the first to the fifth-place finishes,” Cunnane said. “Every person and every point is going to matter.”
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