Cal women’s swim can’t chop Tree, takes hard-fought 2nd at NCAA Championships

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As Cal’s women swimmers and staff smiled cheek to cheek, flashing their second-place trophies — it was clear — there was no reason to be upset over falling to Stanford for the second year in a row. The Bears put together a solid 2018 NCAA Championship campaign and made history along the way.

No brackets were busted in Columbus, Ohio, as heavy favorite and No. 1 Stanford swept the show and claimed back-to-back national titles. The Bears, however, busted five school records, set personal bests and came away with a new American record en route to their way to their second consecutive top-two finish.

Junior Kathleen Baker shined bright like the star she is. With every powerful stroke, the Olympian willed herself to be her best. The peak of her performance came Saturday night, when she claimed a new American record of 1:47.30 in the 200-yard backstroke. The previous owner of the record — Elizabeth Pelton — was also a Bear and set the previous record in 2013.

Prior to her American record, Baker also set a school-best mark in the 200 individual medley with a time of 1:51.25.

The relay squad of sophomore Maddie Murphy, junior Amy Bilquist, junior Katie McLaughlin and sophomore Abbey Weitzeil now own the top spot in Cal’s history in the 200 free relay with a mark of 1:25.50.

The next group of four to get it done in the water was Baker, Weitzeil, senior Noemie Thomas and Bilquist in the 200 medley relay. Their combined time of 1:33.85 is good for another blue and gold record to go down in the school’s books.

Cal closed out its 2018 championships campaign with their fifth and final school record in the 400 freestyle relay. The new best time of 3:08.05 was stitched together by Bilquist, Weitzeil, Baker and McLaughlin.

Despite the Bears’ record-breaking success, there always seemed to be a caveat with their accomplishment — they took second to the Cardinal.

The chips fell very similarly to last year’s big finale as Stanford created a monumental gap for itself between all the other competitors and finished with 593 points. Cal tallied 373, Texas A&M took third with 299, and Michigan came in fourth with 267.

Once again, no one could touch Stanford’s seamless swimming as it claimed 13 event wins.

The Cardinal’s final stat line included five American records, eight individual national championships and five relay titles, headed by sophomore Katie Ledecky and junior Ella Eastin. Eastin was also named Swimmer of the Meet, a title Baker claimed last year with the Bears.

In the last eight years, Cal has placed either first or second at the NCAA Championships six times. And in the last decade, the Bears have been in the top three — a record that currently stands as the longest in the country.

The Bears certainly have nothing to hang their heads about as they return to Berkeley from Columbus, Ohio. But they can be sure that next year Stanford will bring its best again, with its same superstars and will look continue its dominance over its Bay Area rival.

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