A No. 2 nationally ranked team typically does not have what one would consider “weak links,” but nonetheless, there are undoubted hierarchies of ability on any given team. Cal women’s swim displayed its versatility and overall strength as it put in what would resemble a second-string and sat most of its starters at the Fresno State Invitational.
Despite many of its household names competing in less nuanced events, which gave swimmers lower on the totem pole the opportunity to compete, the Bears’ 641.5-point landslide win over second place San Diego State sent a clear message: any team that faces Cal must regard it as a serious threat no matter who is in the pool.
“Part of the reason we put them in different events is because they are well-rounded,” said assistant coach Sarah Dunleavy. “I think they get stuck later in the season swimming the same things over and over again. Allowing them to be well-rounded and not making them stuck in the same thing is what helps them with (the later parts of the season).”
The Bears claimed 16 of 20 events in an overwhelmingly dominant performance over the course of two days. Even the four losses the team endured would have likely been a win for the blue and gold if Cal had its star competitors in the water.
“The team did a really nice job, especially considering the events they were swimming,” Dunleavy said. “Especially the second day I thought they responded really well. … They swam actually a little better on day two, so Terry (head coach) and I were definitely proud of how they handled that situation.”
Cal had its first chance of the season to combine its smörgåsbord of ingredients to find a winning recipe in the relays races. The Bears managed to hit the wall first in all five relay races of the meet, and in every relay except the 400-yard freestyle, Cal took both first and second place. Going into the year, the team knew it had big shoes to fill in these events and so far the swimmers are wearing the responsibility well.
Junior Kathleen Baker, Cal’s current superstar, held out in one of her best races — the 200-yard individual medley — freshman Sarah Darcel had a chance to revel in the limelight. En route to first, Darcel beat out fellow teammates junior Amy Bilquist and sophomore Keaton Blovad who took third and fourth, respectively.
Other notable first place finishes came senior Noemie Thomas. Thomas took both the 100 and 200-yard butterfly and was apart of a winning relay squad. In the 100 fly, she beat out fellow teammate junior Katie McLaughlin by nearly three seconds with a time of 53.22.
In a 48-hour turnaround, all of Cal’s members competed in the two-day festivities and a select group of 14 swimmers headed to Utah for the team’s first Pac-12 meet on Monday.
“It’s definitely a meet that I think builds toughness for them, which is good, you need a little bit of mental preparation for the end of the year,” Dunleavy said.
Christie Aguilar covers women’s swim. Contact her at [email protected].