After coming off back to back NCAA titles, the Cal’s women’s swimming team started the season off with a splash after sweeping the top 14 places in the Cal Poly Queen of the Pool meet this weekend in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Freshman Rachel Bootsma was crowned Queen of the Pool, finishing with a combined time of 4:42.68, in front of three-time Queen of the Pool, Caitlin Leverenz, who finished second with a time of 4:43.40.
“The freshmen did a really nice job. Rachel Bootsma made her presence on the Cal team known,” associate head coach Kristen Cunnane said. “I thought Caitlin did an incredible job by getting her best time ever and had her best time on the 100 free.”
The Cal Poly meet featured five individual 100-yard events. Bootsma, a gold medalist at this summer’s Olympic games, finished first in the 100 butterfly, 100 back, and the 100 free, while her teammate Leverenz captured the 100 breast and the 100 IM. Even though Leverenz improved on her winning time from last year by nearly two seconds, Bootsma still outshined the previous champion.
The Mustangs had only two swimmers in the top 20 — Chrissy Haven and Angie Thomas, who finished 15th and 16th, respectively.
Although there was pressure on the freshmen class to step up and fill in for the eight departed seniors, the freshmen widely exceeded expectations with four freshmen placing within the top ten. Elizabeth Pelton, Kelly Naze, and Alicia Grima all had spectacular debuts, finishing 3rd, 4th, and 9th overall.
“I feel like there are big expectations on the freshman class from other people looking in. Internally, I’m super excited and really want to do well,” Pelton said.
Bootsma, a prized recruit for Cal, broke the high school record for the 100 backstroke and won a gold medal at the Pan American games, showing her potential as one of the nation’s best pre-collegiate swimmers. Pelton, who narrowly missed out on an Olympic berth, strongly challenged Bootsma, finishing less than a second behind Bootsma in every event and less than three seconds behind her total time.
As the first meet of the season, the Cal Poly meet marks a starting point for Cal’s swimmers to gradually improve on throughout the season. Cunnane mentioned that the team excelled at the 100 freestyle, but still has room to improve at the 100 breaststroke. The Bears still face strong opposition from other top-ranked teams.
“The competitiveness that we brought within our own team really surprised me. Not just racing against Cal Poly, but athletes on the team striving themselves and others to be better,” Cunnane said.
No.1 Cal should have confidence in the rest of the season to take its fourth NCAA title in five years. With such a strong freshmen performance, the Bears have a formidable team for years to come as well.
“In the recruiting process, they (the freshmen) were called one of the best classes in the sport of swimming, so it’s really exciting for us that we get to be a part of that.”
Johnny Zhang covers women’s swimming. Contact him at [email protected]