The Cal women’s swimming and diving team officially wrapped up its 2015-16 campaign with a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships in Atlanta, with its 358 point tally falling behind the NCAA champions, Georgia, 414, and second-place Stanford, 395.
Cal’s most impressive individual swim of the tournament came courtesy of senior Rachel Bootsma, swimming in the final NCAA Championships of her collegiate career, who won her third NCAA title in the 100-yard backstroke event with a time of 50.28. Freshman Amy Bilquist finished fourth in the event with her time of 51.01.
The Bears’ 200-yard freestyle relay quartet of Bilquist, juniors Farida Osman and Kristen Vredeveld and sophomore Valerie Hull also claimed a national title with a time of 1:26.80. Finishing in second and third place in the event were Tennessee and Georgia, whose squads posted times of 1:27.42 and 1:27.53, respectively.
Cal’s 200-yard medley relay team continued the strong performances for the Bears as Bootsma, junior Marina Garcia, sophomore Noemie Thomas and Osman finished in second place with time of 1:35.11. The time was just behind Stanford’s team of Ally Howe, Sarah Haase, Janet Hu and Lia Neal, who posted a 1:34.81 mark in the event.
Other notable performances from the Bears included senior Kelly Naze tying for fifth and Thomas’ eighth-place finish in the 200-yard butterfly. Osman took seventh place in the 100-yard freestyle event as well. The Bears’ 400-yard freestyle relay squad of Bilquist, Bootsma, freshman Kathleen Baker and Osman finished in sixth.
Cal’s glaring weakness throughout this season has been in the breaststroke events, and the NCAAs exposed this yet again. No Bears scored points for the team in the event, as Garcia did not qualify for the finals with prelim time of 2:09.97 in the 200-yard breaststroke. Had the team put forth a better effort in the breaststroke events, they might have had a chance to secure an NCAA title repeat.
Stanford continued to be an obstacle for the Bears this year, as the meet marked the third time the Cardinal placed above the Bears during the 2015-16 season. The Bears previously dropped a road dual meet to Stanford and also finished behind the Cardinal at the Pac-12 Championships in Federal Way, Washington. Heading into next season, the Bears hope that their young contingent of swimmers, headlined by Bilquist and Baker, and their new recruits will help the team overcome its Stanford problem and put the team on a path to capture its fifth NCAA title in nine years.
With this year’s NCAAs now in the books, the Bears have finished in the top three the past eight years and the top five for the past 11 years. Even in a relatively down year for the team’s astronomically high standards, the Cal women’s swimmers and divers continued their legacy of consistency.
Shiktij Dave covers women’s swimming. Contact him at [email protected].