With roles reversed, Cal women’s swimming can’t catch Georgia at NCAAs

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Michael Gethers/File

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After the second day concluded at the NCAA Championship meet on March 22, the Cal women’s swimming team found themselves on the opposite end of a familiar situation.

In 2011 and 2012, the Bears held a slim lead over the Bulldogs at the end of the second day and went on to win both national championships. But this time, Cal was the one chasing Georgia.

With one day and seven events remaining in the meet, the Bears were trailing behind Georgia in second place by only 15 points.

But on March 23, the Bulldogs pulled away from the Bears to eventually win the national title by 84 points.

In the last seven events of the NCAA meet, Georgia placed higher than Cal in six events, including winning the 400 free relay race, which was the dagger in Bears’ title hopes.

The 400 free relay not only put a final end to Cal’s three-peat hopes but added a final display of Georgia’s dominance. The Bulldogs conquered the field and edged the Bears’ NCAA record set in 2009 by four tenths of a second.

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Allison Schmitt led Georgia’s effort on the third day to accompany the 200 free national title she won earlier in the competition. Schmitt finished fifth in the 100 free to supplement teammate Megan Romano’s second-place finish and was part of the winning 400 free relay.

Georgia’s strength on the last day and throughout the meet was in the freestyle events. All three of the Bulldogs’ national titles were in freestyle events. In addition to the 200 free and 400 free relay titles, the Bulldogs took the 800 free relay.

Like the Bulldogs, the Bears collected three individual national titles from freshmen Elizabeth Pelton and Rachel Bootsma.

Pelton led Cal’s charge for the national title with a total of seven All-American honors. She was named Swimmer of the Meet after finishing second in the 200 IM and the 200 free, taking top-five finishes in the 400 medley relay and 200, 400 and 800 free relays and a national title in the 200 back.

In the race in which she won a national title, she destroyed the field by a full two seconds to break the American record that she owned.

The Bears’ other two national titles came from Rachel Bootsma’s victory in the 100 back and Leverenz’s second-straight 200 IM national title.

Leverenz kicked off the first day of the competition by defending her 200 IM national title. Leverenz edged teammate Pelton by half a second to repeat in the 200 IM.

On the second day of competition, Bootsma carried on Cal’s legacy in the 100 back with her national title, becoming the Bears’ third-straight national title-winner in the 100 back.

Despite the Bears coming up short at Pac-12s and NCAAs, the NCAA titles can be a sign for the future of swimming. With freshmen winning two of the three national titles and barely missing one more, the Bears’ future is looking bright.

Especially with the addition of five-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin, Cal can look forward to getting back to the top of collegiate women’ swimming over the next few years.

Jessica Lim covers women’s swim. Contact her at [email protected].