While many eyes were fixed on the Pac-12 Championships from Wednesday to Saturday, few were watching two-time Olympian Quah Zheng Wen’s debut for the No. 1 Cal men’s swimming and diving team at the Pac-12 Invitational. The Invitational was an exhibition opportunity for those who didn’t compete in Pac-12 Championships, which took place in Federal Way, Washington, from Wednesday to Saturday of this week.
Zheng’s strong performances indicate that he may have been the missing link for the Bears, who placed second at the Pac-12 Championships with 767 points to Stanford’s first-place score of 784.
Representing Singapore, Zheng competed in the 2012 Olympic games in London when he was only 15 years old and traveled to Rio in 2016 to swim the 200-meter butterfly. Over the years, however, Zheng has shown his prowess in all strokes, swimming competitively in the IM, backstroke and freestyle as well. On Sunday, Zheng recorded NCAA qualifying times in the 200- and 100-yard butterfly and the 100-yard backstroke.
While Zheng produced an impressive time in the backstroke, he came nowhere near senior Ryan Murphy, who championed the 100-yard backstroke at the main competition with a time of 44.76 — a new Pac-12 Championship record.
The Bears’ problem was not a lack of wins. In fact, they claimed more event wins than any other school. The difference between second and first place for the Bears was the depth of their finishes. Many of the their first-place finishes were not followed up by any point-scoring Cal swimmers.
Cal dominated in four of the fives relays throughout the week: the 200 and 400-yard medley relays and the 200 and 800-yard freestyle relays. In the first event of the championships, the 200 medley relay, Murphy, junior Connor Hoppe, junior Justin Lynch and freshman Pawel Sendyk were 0.04 seconds off from breaking an NCAA record, which had been set by Michigan in 2013.
Juniors Matthew Josa and Lynch went one and two in the 100-yard butterfly with times of 45.41 and 45.47, respectively. Another important back-to-back finish was that of sophomore Andrew Seliskar and Murphy who went one and two in the 200-yard IM. Seliskar continued his IM excellence with a win in the 400-yard IM, which he completed in 3:39.53.
Despite consistently being ranked as one of the best teams in the nation for the past few years, Cal has not won a Pac-12 Championship since 2014, which could be due in part to the disconnect between the swimming and the diving portions of the team. And while they are physically separated, the swimming and diving portions of the championships are not standalone.
The Cardinal prowess at the Pac-12 Diving Championships last week contributed to boosting its score over the Bears. Furthermore, the strong efforts by Stanford freshmen True Sweetser and Grant Shoults in distance events such as the 1650- and 500-yard freestyle allowed the Cardinal to capitalize on Cal’s weak spots.
Lucy Schaefer covers men’s swimming. Contact her at [email protected]