No. 3 Cal women’s swim may have been feeling an unwavering sense of déjà vu since the month of December started — and for good reason. With a 2016-17 schedule nearly identical to the current one from December to March, the Bears will look to mirror their past successes. Cal will take on the San Jose State Spartans in its final meet of 2017 and will look to defend its undefeated record of 4-0.
The season has been a huge success for the Bears, who graduated a few seniors who played a key role in their second-place finish at the 2016 championships. The Bears have shown, even with the cards stacked against them early on in the season, that they are one of the best programs in the nation.
The team is nearly back to where it was just more than a year ago — at least according to the rankings. Cal, which at one point was ranked a season-low seventh in the nation, now sits at the No. 3 spot in the country.
San Jose knows all too well of Cal’s capabilities in the water. The Spartans are 0-2 against the Bears in the last two years, and both losses were by 65 points or more. San Jose was also pummeled by Cal earlier this year at the Fresno State Invitational. The first-place Bears put up a whopping 1,318.5 points during the two days of action in Fresno; the Spartans totaled a less impressive 460.
For the second year in a row, the Bears are going from one extreme to the next, first traveling to Athens to compete in the Georgia Fall Invitational, then coming home to host San Jose.
Two weeks ago, Cal was taking on some of the best teams in the nation in Georgia, including a then-No. 4 Michigan and then-No. 5 Georgia. While the Bears came up short of winning the meet for the second year in a row, they still finished respectably in third.
When the women of Cal boarded the plane to head to Georgia, however, they were short their most talented swimmer, junior Kathleen Baker. Baker was largely missed, and her absence was heightened by the rigorous competition. The Bears will once again be disadvantaged if Baker, who was dealing with illness, does not suit up, but the stakes are nowhere near the same.
Now swimming back at home, the circumstances are very different from what they were mere weeks ago. To say Cal is favored against San Jose is an understatement. The strengths of schedules, the caliber of athletes and the overall programs’ histories are simply incomparable. The Bears should hand the Spartans a heavy loss with virtually no issues. And now, Cal is within reaching distance of a feat they could not attain in 2016.
Last year, the Bears were unable to seal a perfect record at home, marred by a tight 152-148 loss to a tough Texas squad. But with the new year knocking on the door, the Bears should be able to wrap up a perfect year in Berkeley and tie their 4-0 record with a blue and gold bow.
Christie Aguilar is an assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].