Cal men’s swim set on maintaining No. 1 status

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Coming off three consecutive runner-up finishes in the NCAA Championships for Cal men’s swimming, the last one of which the Bears entered as the No. 1 team, there must only be one goal in sight. This year, the expectation is nothing less than a championship.

“Right now, we’re trying to not get too far ahead of ourselves here,” said Cal head coach David Durden. “We are making sure that we’re doing things right every day, that we’re valuing that, versus valuing performance right now.”

That approach has been tried and true for Durden, who is entering his 11th season at Cal. He has helped create one of the premier swimming programs in the nation, and the results — eight consecutive top-two NCAA Championship finishes — only reinforce that claim.

With an elite program comes the ability to recruit the best athletes in the country. Freshman sprinter Ryan Hoffer, the top recruit in the 2017 class, leads a group of nine talented incoming athletes. The current world junior record holder in the 400 Individual Medley, freshman Sean Grieshop, adds talent as a distance swimmer.

The returning group of swimmers is highlighted by seniors Justin Lynch and Matthew Josa. Lynch scored in the 50 free and 100 fly in the 2017 NCAA Championships, while Josa competed in the 200 free and 400 medley relays.

Former No. 2 recruit junior Andrew Seliskar looks to improve upon his sophomore year, in which he claimed three individual titles at the Pac-12 championships and participated in three “A” finals at the NCAA championships.

Among that group is Singaporean sophomore Quah Zheng Wen, a two-time Olympian who joined the Bears halfway through last season.

“(Quah) had one competition for us last year where he could qualify for NCAAs, and then went to NCAAs and had a really great meet for us,” said Durden. “So it’s just exciting to have a full season with him … and get him into the fold.”

Their season kicks off Friday with a trip to Cal Poly for the King of the Pool, a unique event featuring four 100-yard races of each stroke and 100-yard individual medley. Cal will also participate in several dual meets, facing off against Pacific and Utah in mid-October, and hosting Stanford in November.

They have two meets in the fall campaign — the USA Swimming College Challenge in LA as well as the Georgia Fall Invitational, the latter as the lone Pac-12 team. The NCAA championship will take place in Minneapolis in late March, where Cal is, once again, expected to be in contention for the title.

As for diving, second-year coach Derek Starks and returning sophomore Connor Callahan look to lead the team to the next level. Cal’s only male diver last year, then-freshman Callahan was the second Cal diver to qualify for the NCAA championships since 2008. This year, he’ll have some company, with three incoming freshmen joining him on the platform.

“The basic expectation is to take it a step up,” Starks said. “You know, hoping that Connor shows the improvements that he’s been working on. And the (three) divers that we brought in, hopefully they’re pushing him, he’s pushing them to that level so that we have more males qualify for NCAAs this year.”

With a talented incoming class, an accomplished returning group and a dedicated coaching staff, there is undoubtedly a lot of excitement around the pools at Cal. But the Bears should be warned, the jump from second to first is oftentimes the most difficult of all.

Leo Xie covers men’s swim. Contact him at [email protected].