No. 2 Cal men’s swim and dive aims for title at National Championships

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Not once, not twice, but thrice.

For three years running, Cal has finished runner-up in collegiate men’s swimming and diving’s biggest stage, where the lights shine the brightest and the crowd roars the loudest.

All season, No. 2 Cal men’s swimming and diving has talked about working toward March. The time has come for them to try and finally shed its “No. 2” label as they travel to Minneapolis for the season-ending NCAA Championships on Wednesday through Saturday.

“Irregardless of how we finished in the last couple years, I feel good about this group for a couple reasons,” said Cal head coach Dave Durden. “One, we’ve just done such a great job this year, both in the classroom and in the pool, training. It’s been consistent. We’ve had great leadership from our seniors.”

That consistency led them to a 5-1 overall dual meet record, including 4-1 against Pac-12 opponents. The team’s one loss was to No. 1 Stanford by 2 points, which Cal more than made up for by demolishing the field at the Pac-12 Championships, bringing the conference title back to Berkeley for the first time since 2014.

“We’re certainly built a little bit more for a championship meet performance, in having some depth, having some options in relays,” Durden said.

The first glimpse of Cal’s tremendous depth came in its only other taste of the championship meet format. At the Georgia Fall Invitational, they impressively set country-best times in four relays en route to victory.

“From the 50 through the mile, all the strokes, all the IMs, all the relays and guys on the boards, we have someone in every event,” Durden said. “That’s a good thing to have. The points will spread out and take care of itself.”

In addition to depth, they have star power. Senior Justin Lynch was last December’s Pac-12 Swimmer of the Month, whereas freshman Ryan Hoffer won a Pac-12 Swimmer of the Week honor in February.

Junior Andrew Seliskar received his second Pac-12 Swimmer of the Meet award earlier this month with two record-breaking swims in the championship.

On the boards, Cal will benefit from having double the representation of last year, with freshman Johnny Robinson joining returning sophomore Connor Callahan, the Bears lone male diver at these championships last year.

“I’m pumped,” said Cal diving coach Derek Starks. “These guys have been training hard, and they’re excited about it. All championship season, they’ve just been gearing themselves to get better with each performance, hoping we’re going to see our best next week.”

Robinson and Callahan’s best performances thus far were at the Zone E Championships, where they secured their spots in the upcoming NCAA Championships. Robinson set a season-best in the platform, while Callahan posted a second-best season score to punch his ticket to Minneapolis.

Among the field of competition is three-time defending national champion No. 6 Texas, top-ranked Stanford and Big Ten champion No. 3 Indiana.

With their combination of starpower and depth, Cal is poised to take the trophy back to Berkeley for the first time since 2014.

“There’s not one race or event where we say, ‘Hey, we have to do this because this is a primary event for us,’ ” Durden said. “I think our guys can go in and be freed up to race.”

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