Thumb Wars: Who rules Spieker Pool, men’s swimming or women’s swimming?

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Men’s swimming

The women’s swimming team might have a couple of stars, but the men’s swimming team has a more balanced team from top to bottom. The national champions have revamped with the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation.

Tom Shields is the unanimous leader on this team full of elite swimmers. His versatility was the trump card that Cal depended on to win the NCAA title. He made a huge contribution in all aspects of last year’s NCAA championships, winning the Swimmer of the Meet accolade.

His impact reverberates throughout the team, competing in three individual events and four relays. In that meet, he broke school records in the 100 fly and 100 back, timing in at 44.76 and 44.86 seconds respectively. He was also part of the butterfly leg of the 400 medley relay championship team that recorded a time of 3:03.24.

Shields has a laid-back persona, but when he enters the pool, he is a model of diligence that the team can emulate. Even scarier for opponents, Shields will have plenty of help this year from the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, which includes high school standouts Nick Dillinger, Jacob Pebley, and Michael Haney.

Dillinger became the No. 12 recruit in the nation as a specialist in sprints. He is a six-time high school All-American and was junior National Champion in the 50 free.

Pebley is the No. 4 recruit of the nation and will be consistent enough to take pressure off of Tom Shields in the breaststroke races. He was a member of the USA National Junior Team and was a three-time gold medalist in 100 and 200 back and 400 medley relay.

Haney was a five-time All-American and named Male Swimmer of the Year by the Press Enterprise as a high schooler. He was also part of the 400 relay team that won gold in the 2011 Junior Olympic Championships.

Most of the veterans on this team also had great summers and are looking to contribute even more to the team. Will Hamilton, who was the NCAA champion for 200 butterfly, had an impressive showing in Cal Poly where he posted his personal best in 100 breast with 55.95. Adam Hinshaw dropped five seconds off of his personal best for silver in the 200 IM in the U.S. Open this summer. Marcin Tarczynski captured “King of the Pool” title in the Cal Poly invited, where he placed in the 100 fly (48.29), 100 back (49.22) and 100 IM (50.20).

The success of the Cal men’s swimming team in the past two years has to placed on head coach David Durden. He was hired in 2007 and turned the team — which had not won a national championship since 1980 — around into back-to-back champions in 2011 and 2012. This year, Coach Durden will have even more options due to the versatility of the swimmers and the depth of this team.

Though swimming is full of individual events, collegiate swimming is a team sport that requires group effort. The women’s team have great individual stars, but the balanced men’s team will be led by Shields with contributions from a number of swimmers to more success.

— Hunter He


Women’s swimming

Boasting three NCAA titles in the last four years, Cal’s women’s swimming team is arguably the most successful sporting team Cal has had in recent years. The squad prides itself with its multiple Olympic medalists and national title winners. Teri McKeever, head coach of the U.S. Olympics women’s swimming team, currently leads Cal as the head coach.

The Bears are currently ranked No.1 in the nation in front of other powerhouses like Georgia and USC. During last year’s NCAA championships, Cal, with a total of 412.5 points, beat second-place Georgia by nearly 50 points and had seven national All-American swimmers.

This year, Cal is the favorite to win the NCAA championship once again, looking for a three-peat with its combination of veterans and skilled underclassmen.

“Our goals this season are all about taking care of the process and staying committed,” associate head coach Kristen Cunnane said. “No matter what comes out of that we have to be proud.”

Cal recruited one of the best classes in the sport of swimming this year. The impressive freshmen include Rachel Bootsma, an Olympic gold medalist and Elizabeth Pelton, who narrowly missed out on an Olympic berth this year.

“I think the freshmen have huge shoes to fill,” Cunnane said. “Instead of thinking of them replacing the seniors, we just want them to do the best they can and to grow and progress.”

The freshmen have a great mentor and role model in Caitlin Leverenz, the only senior on the team. Leverenz, an Olympic bronze medalist, grabbed four first-place finishes in the 2011 NCAA championships while setting school and pool records with her 200 breaststroke and set an American record in the 200 IM.

Though Leverenz is the only senior, the Bears are in no way short on experience. Now in her 20th year as Cal’s head coach, McKeever is one of the best women’s swimming coaches in the nation. McKeever’s program has produced several U.S. Olympic team members such as Dana Vollmer, Natalie Coughlin, Jessica Hardy, and Leverenz. Under the leadership of McKeever and Leverenz, the already-qualified freshmen class has a road to success now blazed for them.

“We definitely have a young team with some young talent. It is very exciting and hopeful for our future,” Cunnane said.

In the first meet of the season, Bootsma usurped Leverenz’s three-time title as Cal Poly’s Queen of the Pool, already making a name for herself in her first year. Expectations are high for this Cal team this season, but with such a deep roster, there is a very strong possibility that the Bears will exceed those expectations.

Freshmen Pelton, Alicia Grima, and Kelly Naze also placed within the top 10 of the Cal Poly meet. If the freshmen can keep producing and improving throughout their four years, there is no doubt that the Bears will continually be a formidable team and be in the running for more championship titles.

Johnny Zhang

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