The top swimmers from one of the most decorated women’s swim conferences in the nation will go from competing against one another to competing alongside each other — but only for a weekend, and only in order to take on some of the best competition in the world. Cal women’s swim will send five representatives (juniors Kathleen Baker and Katie McLaughlin, sophomores Maddie Murphy and Abbey Weitzeil and freshman Robin Neumann) to help in a Pac-12 versus USA national team showdown.
There is recent precedent for a national team showdown along these same lines. NBA phenom Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder recently faced Melbourne United, to which he said he wasn’t “expecting sh-t” when competing against the Aussies. When USA swimming takes on Pac-12, however, there will be no room for Westbrook-esque arrogance.
“I think it will be a really good meet, because a lot of the Pac-12 is on the national team,” said Cal assistant coach Sarah Dunleavy. “It’s a really great opportunity for swimmers that are either out of college or that are professionals who can’t compete collegiately to race high-level athletes. … It could be really close, it should be an exciting meet.”
Of the 25-woman Pac-12 roster, eight have already competed with the USA National Team, including three Bears: Baker, McLaughlin and Weitzeil. The meet will be a reunion of sorts for the national team and Pac-12 members; only a short while ago, in late June, many of them were competing with one another at the Phillips 66 National Championships in Indiana.
The participating Bears who are not currently on the USA roster — Murphy and Neumann — are still more than capable of helping their team pull out a win and have many accolades that reflect their skills. Neumann’s international competition has come with the Dutch national team and includes a trip to the 2016 Olympics. Murphy doesn’t have those national bonafides yet but had a solid outing at the NCAA Championships in a budding freshman season.
“I think (Murphy) is really starting to come into her own in being a part of the national team and getting to that point where she will compete internationally and compete at a very high level,” Dunleavy said. “The more of that she can experience, the better; she’s really come a long way.”
Stanford and Cal head coaches Greg Meehan and Teri McKeever (coaches of the first- and second-highest-placing schools at nationals, respectively) got to hand-pick their roster like a box of chocolates in attempt to build a roster sweet enough to topple Team USA. Every school in the Pac-12 has at least one representative on the Pac-12 squad, and Stanford matches Cal’s figure with five competitors.
Both teams boast a pair of undergraduate Olympians. Baker and Weitzeil will headline for Cal, and the Cardinal send stars sophomore Katie Ledecky and senior Simone Manuel.
For most of the Pac-12, competing against first-rate talent is nothing new, and Team USA will have its work cut out for it as it takes on both fellow teammates and unfamiliar faces at USC this weekend.
“I think for the girls, it is good for them to get a suit on — they’ll wear a competition fast suit and just see where they’re at early on in the season,” Dunleavy said.
Christie Aguilar covers women’s swim. Contact her at [email protected].