No. 2 Cal men’s swim tasked with dethroning No. 1 Stanford at Pac-12 Championships

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Phillip Downey/File

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Being compared to the Cardinal is nothing new for the Bears. The Bay Area rivalry will be put under the spotlight once again this week, as the two highest-ranked squads in the country headline the swimming portion of the Pac-12 Men’s Swimming Championships.

The team to beat at this meet is the two-time defending Pac-12 champion No. 1 Stanford (6-0, 4-0), which climbed to the top of the ladder after edging out No. 2 Cal (5-1, 4-1) to finish its season undefeated.

The Bears, who were runners-up at this meet last year, fell out of the top spot in the national rankings for the first time in this calendar year. They will take the baton from the divers, who contributed valuable points during the diving portion of the Pac-12 championships last week.

But for Cal head coach Dave Durden, the focus is not necessarily on the other schools or placement.

“The goal for us at Pac-12s is to swim fast,” Durden said. “More than anything else, we want to maintain the consistency that we’ve had day in, day out, week in, week out with our guys, and do that in a championship meet format.”

The last time the Bears swam in a championship meet format was in December at the Georgia Fall Invitational. While the win was stellar considering the high level of competition, the Bears posted even more impressive times — setting the nation’s fastest marks at the time in four of five relays.

“I’m excited to see our relays. We have a lot of variability with our relays, so I’m excited to see how they move,” Durden said.

Success in the relays points to one of Cal’s strengths — its depth. The coaching staff has placed emphasis on strengthening its roster as a whole all season long and has created lineups accordingly for the dual meets.

“It was good to see some guys perform in a position that we hadn’t really seen them do that before,” Durden said. “In other words, putting a little bit of pressure on some of our guys that may be a little further down the roster, taking a little pressure off of our better guys, to help prepare us for what needs to be done in a championship meet season, which is depth, everyone scoring, winning the race within the race.”

That is not to downplay the talent at the top of the roster, accentuated by junior Andrew Seliskar — Swimmer of the Meet at the 2016 Pac-12 championships — and senior Justin Lynch, December’s Pac-12 Men’s Swimmer of the Month.

Freshman Ryan Hoffer lived up to his expectations as the No. 1 high school recruit of his class, posting times in the top 12 in the 50 and 100 free. A Pac-12 Men’s Swimmer of the Week earlier this month, Hoffer has proved himself to be one of the best young sprinters in the nation.

“I’m just looking forward to us getting together as a team and racing a meet start to finish, with one of our better lineups,” Durden said. “I don’t know if we’ve necessarily put our best lineup together in a dual meet fashion, and now we get to a championship meet, and we put our best in our best events, so it should be fun to see how they do.”

Leo Xie covers men’s swim. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @leoxie_24