Early Saturday morning, a competitive No. 13 North Carolina State stood a pool’s length away from a confident Cal women’s swim team. Both teams stood for the national anthem, and chilly weather taunted all of the swimmers. As the anthem came to an end, and Cal cheered, “and the home of the ‘Bears!’ ” it was clear that the blue and gold were ready to cede nothing to the visiting Wolfpack and go 2-0 in their home opener.
“NC State is a phenomenal team, so to have that level of competition out here is always good,” said assistant coach Sarah Dunleavy. “I think our schedule hasn’t been quite that difficult until this point, so it was really good to see where we’re at with a good team.”
The day got off to a hectic start with the 200-yard medley relay, as six groups of four lined up at their podiums. The swimmers slapped their thighs, jumped around and donned their warm trench coats as long as they could to battle the Berkeley cold.
Cal sent out four relay squads to compete, while North Carolina sent just a pair. The race was a fight to the finish with the Wolfpack neck and neck with the Bears the entire time. But the unmatched dominance and veteran presence in the team of junior Kathleen Baker, sophomore Abbey Weitzeil and seniors Noemie Thomas and Valerie Hull came out with the victory.
The win set the tone for Cal, and right off the bat, it was up 13-2 over NC State. But the waters quickly changed tides. In the following event, the 1000-yard freestyle, the Bears were shut out of the top three, and the Wolfpack answered back with a victory of its own, outscoring Cal 16-3.
Sophomore Chenoa Devine and junior Jenna Campbell took fourth and fifth, respectively, and it was clear that their performances were not enough against a top team.
“You’re trying to compete for a national title at the end of the year,” Dunleavy said. “So if we’re not racing the way that we should be, we’re going to get on them about that.”
Even still, one hiccup was not enough to drown the Bears’ will to win, and they came out on top 176-124.
Weitzeil was a crucial element to the Bears’ success, and she showed out in her signature freestyle events. She finished the day with two relay wins (200 medley, 400 freestyle) and two individual wins (50 and 100 freestyle).
“My times I wasn’t quite happy with, but I take into account everything,” Weitzeil said. “We had a pretty rough week of practice, and it was really cold.”
Along with Weitzeil, Baker helped also steer the ship in the right direction. Baker managed to hit the wall just before teammate junior Amy Bilquist in the 100 backstroke, and later in the day, she had a dominant two-second win in the 200 back.
Baker also headed the 200 individual medley, where freshman Sarah Darcel was her biggest competition. Darcel, along with fellow rookies Robin Neumann and Ali Harrison, contributed largely to the team’s win and showed much promise for the rest of the season.
“It was just a lot of fun to come out here and race. We knew it was going to be a little bit of a tougher dual meet,” Weitzeil said. “We were swimming kind of our own events and not necessarily looking at the times, but just kind of getting our hands to the wall.”
Christie Aguilar covers women’s swim. Contact her at [email protected].