Amid a backdrop of gray skies and downpour, the No. 7 Cal women’s swimming and diving team brought its own storm that overwhelmed two teams visiting from the desert Friday and Saturday, No. 11 Arizona and Arizona State. The Bears re-asserted their status as contenders in the collegiate swimming world with their dominant efforts in the two dual meets.
Cal’s 185-114 victory over Arizona was especially impressive as the Wildcats entered the dual meet fresh off of a demolition of Oregon State, Northern Arizona University and New Mexico State in a quad-dual meet. The Bears showed up to this meet hoping to change this trend, however, and received a strong performance from freshman Kathleen Baker who took first in three events, the 100-yard backstroke, 200-yard backstroke and 200-yard individual medley, with times of 53.64, 1:54.83 and 1:58.77, respectively. Freshman Amy Bilquist won the 100 and 200 freestyle events, and set a personal best with a 1:47.44 time in the 200.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a short-course dual meet … (and) a lot of the freshmen really stood up. Amy Bilquist, Kathleen Baker did really well,” said Cal assistant coach Kathie Wickstrand.
Cal also put forth a 1-2-3 finish in the 200 butterfly event, with senior Kelly Naze setting a personal record in the event at 1:57.89. Sophomore Noemie Thomas took second at 1:58.81 and junior Celina Li, who had previously won the 1,000-yard freestyle, took third at 2:00.27. Freshman Phoebe LaMay scored 289.58 to win the 1-meter dive and 301.65 for a second place finish in the 3-meter event.
The Bears picked up right where they left off as they headed into their Saturday matchup against Arizona State. The team honored the seniors, who were participating in the final home dual meet of their career, both before the meet and with a thorough dismantling of the Sun Devils, 181-98.
“What really stood out to me was the whole team pulling together,” Wickstrand said. “It was really wonderful to see the seniors honored and cherished. They’ve added so much to this program (and) they swam incredible all weekend long, all of them. … Really, this weekend was all about the seniors.”
Battling the elements in her last home meet ever, Naze captured the 1,000-yard freestyle and the 400 individual medley with times of 9:59.09 and 4:14.76, respectively. Senior Rachael Acker took the 200 freestyle at 1:47.95. The meet also featured a special moment in the last event as Acker, Naze and fellow seniors Elizabeth Pelton, Rachel Bootsma and Alicia Grima teamed up as an exhibition team in the 400 free relay, with Grima and Naze splitting up the anchor leg.
Despite the adverse conditions that persisted throughout the meet, the non-seniors also excelled in similar fashion with Li capturing the 200 butterfly and 200 breaststroke with 2:00.92 and 2:17.79 times. Bilquist continued an incredible start to her college career with victories in the 100 and 200 backstroke, where she clocked in at 53.24 and 1:55.44, respectively. Junior Farida Osman took the 50 and 100 free with times of 22.83 and 49.97.
The Bears, who’ve opened their season with a bang, still have their work cut out for them as they look to tackle Pac-12 rivals UCLA and USC over the course of the next week. Cal will hope that the dominant way in which it opened up the season is a good indicator of the kind of performances the Bears can expect as they plunge into the depths of their schedule in defense of their national title.
Shiktij Dave covers women’s swimming. Contact him at [email protected].