There comes a point in every season when a strong team faces an equal — a team just as talented, just as tenacious and just as confident. Win or lose, the way student-athletes respond to such an obstacle can determine the trajectory of the rest of their season.
Needless to say, this situation isn’t the first rodeo for No. 5 Cal women’s swim. With a 9-1 dual meet record and a second-place finish at last year’s NCAA championships, there is no doubt that the Bears can hold their own against any opposition that comes their way. When No. 1 Texas comes to town for a high-noon showdown this Saturday, however, there will be an intensity that previous meets this season have not yet seen.
The Bears will face a top-ranked Texas program that has not lost a dual meet in nearly two years — the Longhorns own a 3-0 record this season, finished 9-0 last season and went 11-1 in their 2016-17 campaign. So far, the Longhorns’ season-best times in individual events would have won eight of 13 head-to-head events against Cal’s best times this year.
Texas breezed past No. 6 Texas A&M by a 50-point margin its last time out, while Cal is coming off a dominant 158-95 win over Washington State.
The history of the two programs is chock-full of accolades. Cal owns 10 consecutive top-three NCAA finishes and four NCAA titles, while Texas has placed in the top 10 in five of the six previous championships.
The last time the two teams met in a dual meet was in fall 2016 when Texas eked out a 152-148 win.
This will surely be the Bears’ biggest challenge of the year thus far and one of the toughest meets of the season as the Cal women will need to post their best times yet to down the Longhorns at home. Texas will be arriving from Palo Alto where the Longhorns will face the No. 2 Stanford Cardinal in a matchup Friday between the two top-ranked teams.
The last time the Longhorns lost a dual meet was Nov. 12, 2016, to Stanford, one day after a 4-point win over the Bears. The Longhorns will be enduring a rough patch in their schedule as they face the current No. 2 and No. 5 teams on back-to-back days.
At the same time, Cal cannot expect Stanford to tire the Longhorns; the Bears will need to be at their best Saturday if they want to retain their own undefeated record and defend their home territory that is the Spieker Aquatics Complex.
The Bears will seek to emerge as the larger of two equals as they prepare for a fiercely contested meet. Cal’s chemistry and cohesion will be put to the test Saturday, as the showdown with Texas looks to be one that could go either way.
Chanun Ong covers women’s swimming and diving. Contact him at [email protected].