The Cal women’s swim team’s undefeated fall season came to a close as the Bears came in second behind host Georgia in the Georgia Fall Invitational last weekend.
The No. 2 Bears finished with 876 points but fell to No. 3 Georgia by 115 points. Meanwhile, No. 10 Virginia took a distant third with 630 points.
“This was a great overall team performance and a great way to see where we stand at this point of the season,” associate head coach Kristen Cunnane said.
History repeated itself as Cal lost to Georgia in this very meet at the Gabrielsen Natatorium in Athens, Ga. last year, but the Bears still went on repeat for their third NCAA championship in four years last March.
As Georgia looked to even the score after its second-place finish in the NCAAs, both teams battled fiercely right from the start. In the 200 free relay to open the meet, Georgia won by less than a second ahead of the Bears.
Time and time again this season, Cal captain Caitlin Leverenz has continued to dominate the scoreboard including this meet. Leverenz placed first in the 400 medley relay, the 200 medley relay, the 400 IM and the 200 breast.
Alongside junior Cindy Tran, who also placed first in the 400 medley relay, the 200 medley relay and the 100 back, Leverenz demonstrated incredible leadership for the freshmen to follow suit.
“I’m really proud of the leadership that Caitlin and Cindy showed during the meet,” Cunnane said. “They really helped the entire freshmen class have a solid race.”
Up and coming standout Elizabeth Pelton broke the American record in the 200 back with a time of 1:48.90. This extraordinary time broke 12-time Olympian Natalie Coughlin’s school record for the 200 back and was nearly five seconds ahead of the second finisher, Courtney Bartholomew, who finished with a 1:53.03.
“Elizabeth is in a really good spot,” Cunnane said. “For her, having a team to race for really inspires her to be her best.”
Georgia, however, had their own set of superstars to propel them in front of the Bears. Six-time Olympian and freestyle specialist Allison Schmitt took first in the 200 free and the 800 free relay with times of 1:42.25 and 6:59.25, respectively. Junior Shannon Vreeland added to Georgia’s success by placing first in the 500 free, 800 free relay and the 400 free relay.
Cunnane previously stated this season that USC and Georgia will be Cal’s biggest obstacles in three-peating for the 2013 title. Although the Bears did not manage to beat the Bulldogs in Georgia, Cal has refined its arsenal of weapons with its freshman class.
Cal has now lost twice to the Bulldogs in Georgia in the past two years likely due to the travel fatigue and the environmental changes. But when in neutral venues, like the NCAA Championships last year, the Bears demonstrated they can contend with Georgia anywhere.
“Considering the girls traveled halfway across the country, the team did an amazing job at handling such a tough travel meet,” Cunnane said.
Johnny Zhang covers women’s swimming. Contact him at [email protected]