For all of its excellent play and mental toughness throughout the regular season, the No. 1 Cal women’s swim team has never been in this kind of situation. The squad lost its first dual meet of the season to rival Stanford and looks to rebound at the Pac-12 Championships beginning Wednesday in Federal Way, Wash.
The emphasis surrounding the team has been as much about staying focused and as being prepared mentally. The swimmers’ goals at the meet will be in their heads as much as they will be in the pool.
“This meet will be more of an emotional thing for us more than anything else in particular,” said associate head coach Kristen Cunnane. “We want to go in there and compete and not hold anything back.”
Much of the emotional factor for the swimmers will come from seeing the same Cardinal group that just crushed them 174-126 in Stanford. Since that road meet nearly two weeks ago, Cunnane and head coach Teri McKeever have been working closely with the swimmers to work on all aspects of their game — but two things in particular.
“Some of the changes we have made are things we have been emphasizing all year, specifically the starts and turns,” Cunnane said. “We did have to make changes after the (Stanford) meet, we would not be good coaches if we didn’t.”
All of these changes will be put on display against the other 11 teams in the conference in what could be an opportunity to qualify more times for the NCAA Championships.
The meet features much competition for the Bears, including five top-25 teams, most notably USC, Stanford and Arizona, which are ranked No. 7, 8 and 9, respectively.
“We take this meet very seriously,” Cunnane said. “It is a great opportunity for us to keep competing and trying to get more times qualified.”
Although this tournament is not nearly as important as the national championships, it could be a great indicator of how prepared Cal (7-1, 7-1 in Pac-12) is for the bigger event. It is coming off of a weak performance against a conference rival, and it seems Stanford could repeat as Pac-12 champions.
The Bears will have to come out and show that they have what it takes to be mentally prepared to come back from a tough loss and hang with the best. If they are unable to perform at a high level, the coaching staff will have its work cut out if the team hopes to make another run at the national title.
“Our main goal is to go out there and swim a good meet against a group of good teams,” Cunnane said. “We are excited to see where our relays are at and if what we have been working on will translate against this competition.”