With just 15 yards left to go, Cal senior Farida Osman and Stanford senior Lia Neal took their last breaths. The duo went stroke for stroke, yard for yard and charged into the wall to conclude the 400-yard freestyle relay. Neal, who dove in almost a half-second behind, wanted every part to seal a dominating meet by the Cardinal stars and spoil a beautiful Senior Day. As both seniors touched the wall, there was a slight delay before the timing board recognized a victory for the Bears by .07 seconds.
“It was such an honor to anchor that relay,” Osman said. “Amy (Bilquist), Katie (McLaughlin) and Abbey (Weitzeil) made the gap bigger and gave me the confidence to win for them too.”
Despite Osman’s lights-out effort anchoring the victorious and pool record-setting 200-yard medley and 400-yard freestyle relays, No. 2 Cal women’s swimming and diving fell short against No. 1 Stanford, 177-123. Although the final score wasn’t very close, it didn’t reflect the incredible depth, speed, talent and strength that athletes on both rosters exhibited over the course of the meet.
In front of a capacity crowd, the two teams logged eight pool records and several personal bests.
McLaughlin had one of the toughest schedules for the Bears but still managed to put up solid results. Starting with the 200-yard butterfly, an event she has struggled with since her injury, McLaughlin had the tall task of fending off NCAA runner-up in this event last year, Stanford sophomore Ella Eastin. McLaughlin swam a winning time of 1:54.36 — a personal best — that beat Eastin by more than a second.
In the 500-yard freestyle, McLaughlin finished in third behind Stanford freshmen duo Katie Ledecky and Katie Drabot. Although she was almost 10 seconds behind Ledecky, McLaughlin was able to finish the race very well and earn much-needed points for the Bears. Her most daunting task of the day was to lead off the 400-yard freestyle relay against Olympic champion and Stanford sophomore Simone Manuel. Although not typically known as a sprinter, McLaughlin didn’t fall too far behind Manuel for Bilquist to take the lead back easily in the next leg, which Cal never gave up.
Bear senior Marina Garcia gave everything she could to help guide her team to one final dual meet victory. On her 200-yard medley relay breaststroke leg, she tied Stanford junior Heidi Poppe with a time of 28.51. In the 100-yard breaststroke, Garcia tied with a charging Cardinal sophomore Kim Williams at 1:01.89. In a similar fashion, Garcia and Williams would go on to tie in the 200-yard breaststroke as well.
“We just wanted the girls execute their game plans,” said Cal assistant coach Ian Walsh. “Our girls did a really good job get their hands to the wall. A lot of things didn’t go our way. Between the flags, we were great today. But as we continue toward (the Pac-12 Championship), we’ll focus on small details that could better help reach for what we are shooting for.”
Even though the Cal Olympians fell short against more experienced Stanford swimmers, the grit they flashed at various points throughout the meet will be a confidence booster as the Bears face Stanford two more times in championships.
Christopher Zheng covers women’s swim. Contact him at [email protected].