The No. 1 Cal women’s swimming and diving team hopes to bring its best against the best at the NCAA Championships in Atlanta, which will take place from March 16 to March 19.
The Bears will mount a defense for their NCAA title at the championships but the competition this year features a stacked squad of opponents, several of which have already posed problems for the team this season.
“We are excited to compete at the upcoming NCAA Championships in Atlanta,” said Cal head coach Teri McKeever in an email. “The team has worked extremely hard this whole season and I am looking forward to seeing how we race and compete in this environment.”
Cal most recently competed at the Pac-12 Championships, held in Federal Way, Washington, from Feb. 24-27, where it finished third behind USC and Stanford, respectively. Despite the finish, the Bears strung together redeeming performances at the championships that were notably led by junior Farida Osman, who secured two first-place finishes for Cal with her lifetime-best 50.53 time in the 100-yard butterfly and school record 21.32 time in the 50-yard freestyle event.
Stanford and USC have also been the only two squads to defeat Cal in dual meets this season, with the loss against USC coming down to the wire Jan. 29 in Los Angeles. The meet featured strong performances all across the board from the Bears and included impressive swims from Amy Bilquist and Kathleen Baker, who both look to feature prominently at the NCAA Championships. The loss to USC ultimately came down to the final event, the 200-yard freestyle relay, where the Trojan’s quartet eclipsed Cal’s squad by a razor-thin margin, at 1:30.64 to the Bears’ 1:31.71 time.
Stanford, on other hand, blew the Bears right out of the water when they competed head to head Feb. 13 in Stanford, 172-128. Cal’s best efforts included Bilquist’s victories in the 100-yard and 200-yard backstroke events with times of 52.59 and 1:53.80. The Cardinal, however, capitalized on the Bears’ weakness in the breaststroke events as they went 1-2 in both the 100-yard and 200-yard events with their tandem of senior Sarah Haase and freshman Kim Williams.
“We are fortunate to be a part of the Pac-12 Conference, which is one of the most competitive conferences from a swimming perspective” McKeever said.
Outside of the large pool of Pac-12 talent competing at the NCAA Championships, there will be other schools that send their contingents, including No. 3 Georgia, No. 4 Virginia and No. 5 Texas A&M. Cal will certainly find its reign atop the NCAA challenged at the tournament by these opposing forces, and the team hopes that it can perform at its best at the most demanding and important meets of the season in Atlanta.
“Our experience competing throughout the year in dual meets against our conference opponents will only serve to benefit us in Atlanta,” McKeever said. “That being said, the NCAA Championships bring together the best collegiate teams and swimmers and we are excited to compete against the very best from across the nation.”
Shiktij Dave covers women’s swimming. Contact him at [email protected].