In sports, winning one championship makes a team historic. Having consecutive titles is what turns mere teams into dynasties.
With its second NCAA Championship in a row — and its third in four years — the Cal women’s swimming team is on the verge of becoming the next swimming dynasty.
This past weekend, the No. 1 Bears overmatched other top teams such as Georgia, USC and Stanford. They scored 412.5 points, far surpassing the second-place Bulldogs, who tallied 366.
“I wasn’t in the last race, so I was sitting up in the stands, and we just could not help but smile,” said senior Shelley Harper. “We have never had to fight so hard, so this feels really good.”
The dominating performance at the NCAA Championship was the result of a full season of struggle and preparation.
Cal took care of its first four dual meets and won the Arena Invitational, but the squad did not face a ranked team for the first half of the season.
Although the Bears were winning, the coaching staff felt that the team was still in need of more improvement to repeat as champions. Cal spent winter vacation in Hawaii working to fix any issues the swimmers were having and get on the same page. After the break, the team had a new mindset as it began to face much more competitive teams.
“We tried to emphasize that this was its own year and that we should focus more on swimming the best that we can and not winning,” said associate head coach Kristen Cunnane. “I think that gave the girls the freedom to race, and we knew that if we performed at our best, the wins would come.”
As the season progressed and the swimmers began to find their roles on the team, the wins, as Cunnane predicted, rolled in. The team worked its way to a 7-0 record going into its final dual meet, looking for its first perfect regular season since 2006.
Instead of riding their momentum to a historic finish, the swimmers came out flat and lost, 174-126, at Stanford.
“They really creamed us,” Harper said. “In the end, I think it was good for us because it showed us that we were not invincible.”
The blowout loss against the Cardinal came at the worst possible time. Instead of building up steam for a national title run, Cal faltered.
“We talked about it,” Harper said. “We recognized that we were not at our best and that at each practice we needed to do something that would help us win the next meets.”
Following the Bears’ disappointing loss came a brilliant performance at the Pac-12 Championships, where Cal rebounded from the Stanford loss to win the tournament and regain its rhythm in time for the NCAAs.
The squad plowed through the championship meet and earned itself the right to be considered a dynasty.
“This is important for us in a sense because we know that what we are doing as coaches works,” Cunnane said. “Our techniques are working, and we know we can win.”