Clash of the northerners: No. 4 Cal, No. 1 Stanford battle to stay undefeated

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Saturday’s women’s swim matchup between Cal and Stanford is a perfect storm, a Triple Crown, an extra-large combo meal to feed the midnight munchies.

The No. 4 Bears will head to Palo Alto to take on the No. 1 Cardinal in a contest that has everything a sports fan could dream of. It will be a 2017 championship reunion, a battle of two undefeated teams and a clash of hailed Olympians, fueling one of the most historic rivalries in college sports.

Stanford’s household Olympian is none other than sophomore superstar Katie Ledecky. Still, for all the talent, accolades and medals that Ledecky possesses, she alone could not make the team all that it is.

After debuting at No. 1 in 2017 — giving up the throne temporarily but remaining in the top three all season — the Cardinal once again own the title of “best in the nation.” The team’s massive success can be attributed to a roster that runs far deeper than just Ledecky.

The Cardinal lineup includes (but is by no means limited to) sophomore Katie Drabot, junior Ella Eastin and senior Simone Manuel, all athletes who hold top times for the team and were a part of the 2017 championship squad that took down the Bears.

Stanford swimmers own the top three times in the Pac-12 in both the 200- and 500-yard freestyle, along with the top two times in the 200 fly and 400 individual medley. They are lethal threats in nearly every event, including all of the relays.

Cal will turn to its best swimmers to hold it down, with its hardest hitters being Olympians junior Kathleen Baker and sophomore Abbey Weitzeil. Baker and Weitzeil are the only swimmers on the Bears’ roster who hold faster times than the Cardinal in multiple events.

Baker’s top events are the 100 and 200 backstroke along with the 200 IM, while Weitzeil’s signatures are the 50 and 100 free.

Junior Amy Bilquist, a standout backstroker and freestylist, will also need to put up top performances if the Bears want an opportunity to be victorious.

In the next six weeks, Cal will face Stanford three times — first, in its last regular-season meet, then at the Pac-12 Championships and lastly at the NCAA Championships.

If the Cardinal handle the Bears on Saturday, it is likely that they will remain undefeated for the rest of the season and eventually own the titles of both Pac-12 and NCAA champions.

Cal has not topped Stanford since the 2014-15 season, and things were a lot different back then. Baker, Bilquist and Weitzeil were not around, Missy Franklin was a sophomore still competing in Berkeley and there was no Ledecky at Stanford.

The Bears need pristine mental toughness and perfect races if they want a chance at being the national champions come March. Even with a loss on Saturday, their preparation for championships begins in Palo Alto.

Christie Aguilar is an assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].

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