The NCAA women’s swimming and diving championship event was founded in 1982, and in 36 years, it has developed a very distinct rule of thumb. To win the national title, you either have to be in the Pac-12, the SEC or be named the Texas Longhorns.
In the history of the meet, Stanford leads the pack with 20 top-two finishes, taking home first place nine times. Texas and Georgia have seven. Auburn has five, while California has four.
But before Cal women’s swim gets a chance to showcase its moves at the big dance, it will use this week’s 2018 Pac-12 Championships as a final dress rehearsal.
The conference showdown kicks off Wednesday, extending across four days and consisting of fierce competition.
While there are nine teams that make up the Pac-12’s swim division, there are really only two schools that are contenders for winning the conference title: No. 2 Cal and No. 1 Stanford.
Since 1987, Stanford — the reigning Pac-12 Champion — has had an illustrious track record in these conference finals, taking home 20 of the 30 titles. Cal has scraped away four trophies of its own, but hasn’t been at the top since 2015.
The Cardinal are once again the favorite to win the meet, and are in line to come away with their 21st victory, with the Bears all but certain to hold the second-place slot.
Within the Pac-12, there are currently six schools in the top 25 rankings. USC owns the nine spot, while UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona come in at 21, 22 and 24, respectively.
These rankings speak volumes about the competitiveness within the conference, but there are large disparities that exist within the brackets of the top 25.
There is a huge drop-off in talent and times when comparing the top five teams to the latter part of the top 10, and even further gaps when comparing the top 10 to the rest of the ranked squads.
With this fact considered, the battle of the West versus the South becomes more interesting.
Eight schools in the national rankings belong to the SEC, with No. 3 Texas A&M, No. 6 Georgia and No. 10 Tennessee all in the top 10. And, of course, No. 4 Texas leads the Big 12 in its run for another championship.
The SEC held its conference championships last week — with Texas A&M taking the title, so its final preparations have already commenced. If the Pac-12 wants to stake its claim at the national platform in a couple of weeks, the West Coast teams must perform their best in these preliminary finals.
The Pac-12 considers itself the “Conference of Champions,” and if it wants to live up to that standard, its individual schools must realize that this week’s events and performances have both short-term and long-term implications.
Perhaps the West can find common ground against its SEC enemy that believes “it just means more.”
Christie Aguilar is an assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].