No. 6 Cal women’s swim plays host to No. 4 USC, No. 19 UCLA

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With the regular season coming to a close soon, the Bears will face a daunting challenge as their southern rivals come up north. After a dominating show in the desert last weekend, the  No. 6 Cal women’s swim team will play host to No. 4 USC and No. 19 UCLA on Friday and Saturday. In the afternoon on both days, Spieker Aquatics Complex will be full of incredible talents and exhilarating races.

As it has been this season, the Bears have been relying on sophomore trio Kathleen Baker, Amy Bilquist and Katie McLaughlin to pave the way. They are joined by freshman phenom Abbey Weitzeil and seniors such as Farida Osman and Celina Li, who will need to make the most of this weekend as they begin to change gears and focus on bigger obstacles.  

While Cal is being carried by the sophomores, the USC freshmen have put together outstanding performances the entire year.

USC freshman Louise Hansson has been absolutely sensational. The Swedish Olympian has already logged four NCAA individual A standards. She’s been a key leg on all five of the Trojans’ top relay performances this year and has proven to be an elite 50-, 100- and 200-yard freestyle swimmer. She can also be a tough opposing force in the 100-yard butterfly and backstroke as well as the 200-yard individual medley. Despite it being Hansson’s first year swimming in the United States, she will be one of the toughest individual swimmers that the Bears have faced all year.

While Hansson is USC’s all-around threat, fellow freshman Becca Mann is the team’s premier distance freestyle specialist. Mann is a rare commodity in NCAA swimming because she is a world-class distance freestyle swimmer — something few other teams can boast this year.

Freshmen Stanzi Moseley and Tatum Wade round out the recruiting class and have strengthened the freestyle depth that was lacking last season. They will be joining the senior combo of Anika Apostalon and Chelsea Chenault, which could make USC the only rival to Stanford’s elite ability at every freestyle race from the 50- to 1,650-yard freestyle events.

USC took home its first Pac-12 Championship and finished sixth in the NCAA Championship last year, and it looks primed for a more successful championship season — but Cal will be the biggest challenge the young Trojans have seen.

UCLA isn’t as formidable an opponent as USC, but they have key pieces who are capable of holding their own against Cal. Bruin senior Linnea Mack is the school record holder in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle races as well as the 100-yard backstroke. These events, however, are among the Bears’ fortes, which will make it difficult for Mack and UCLA to score individual or relay event wins. The Bruins’ best chance at event titles may come in the diving events where they have good depth, but Cal sophomore Phoebe Lamay and the rest of the diving crew has improved significantly under diving coach Derek Starks.

As all the teams prepare for No. 1 Stanford — one of the greatest collegiate swimming teams in history in terms of accomplishments, speed and talent — and the championship season, this weekend’s slate of competition will be a great trial run.

Christopher Zheng covers women’s swim. Contact him at [email protected].