Similar Bears, Cardinal squads to make splash in upcoming Big Meet

Since the Cal men’s swim team began its long season five months ago, coach David Durden has preached patience and pragmatism. Training has taken priority over placement in meets. With March’s NCAA Championships in mind, the Bears have kept their focus on gradual, individual improvement — not the other guys in the water.

But on Saturday’s meet at Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center, the Bears will definitely be thinking about the other guys in the water.

The majority of Cal’s meets thus far have been little more than glorified practices, but Saturday’s 1 p.m. matchup with the No. 3 Cardinal promises to be less dull. The No. 6 Bears have won the Big Meet just once in the last two decades, when Cal upset a higher-ranked Stanford squad in 2005 for its first dual meet win over the Cardinal in 14 years. This year, the Bears will try to reverse that trend.

“Stanford is always one of, if not the most talented team in the nation year in year out,” Durden said. “You go up and down their roster and think ‘Holy mackerel, how can we compete? How can we race against these guys?’ It’s going to take execution on our part.”

The Cardinal feature several All-Americans, including seniors Chad La Tourette and David Mosko. But it’s the Cardinal’s depth — rather than any individual standouts — that make Stanford a dangerous opponent.

The Bears (4-1, 3-1 Pac-12) have already seen their Bay Area rivals twice this year, though the teams have yet to compete in a dual meet format. In November’s Triple Distance Meet at Spieker Aquatics Center, Cal took 12 of 20 events from Stanford in its first meet against ranked competition.

Since then, the two teams have taken similar paths. The Bears have had mixed results against elite teams, defeating No. 5 USC in Los Angeles, but falling to top-ranked Arizona at home. So too has Stanford (6-1), which has faced every dual meet opponent that the Bears have — with the same results. The two squads also swam in exhibition meets on Feb. 3 and 4 at USC. But the third meeting against the Cardinal will likely be the one where the intensity is the highest.

“Any time you compete against Stanford you really do feel like you get wrapped up in that emotion, that rivalry,” Durden said. “And I think that’s great. It’s time to start dealing with that.”

No matter the results of Saturday’s meet, Cal will get two more cracks at the Cardinal — once more at the Pac-12 championships in two weeks and again at the NCAA Championships at the end of March. Stanford has won 29 straight Pac-12 championships, but Cal has had the last laugh at the NCAAs in recent years, finishing second in 2010 and first last season.

That doesn’t mean the Bears will be taking Saturday’s meet lightly.

“I don’t want them to be too thoughtless this weekend,” Durden said. “I want them to appreciate the environment, appreciate the guys on the blocks next to them … and use that to draw out a good performance.”