Bears open season against Cal Poly

Cal men’s swimming is not the same as it was last year.

Given the success of last year’s team, that might cause some to worry. Last year’s squad finished the 2010-11 season No. 1 in the country, culminating the year with its first NCAA team championship since 1980. But as the Bears take on Cal Poly this weekend to begin their campaign to defend their title, they’re more focused on the year ahead.

“It’s a different team,” assistant coach Greg Meehan said. “Every year you have a different team. It’s not about trying to replicate what we did last year, it’s about establishing our own identity with our 2011-2012 team. And that’s what this weekend really serves as a great opportunity to do.”

Despite not having competed as a team since winning NCAAs, several members of the Bears have continued to compete over the summer nationally and internationally — at Shanghai’s FINA World Championships and the World University Games in Shenzhen, China. On Sunday, over a dozen Bears swam from Angel Island to Tiburon, Calif., in the 12th annual Tiburon Mile.

On Friday, the short-course season begins.

The Cal men’s swim team will face off with Cal Poly in Friday and Saturday’s Cal Poly King & Queen of the Pool in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Unlike a dual meet, where swimmers’ scores contribute to their team’s overall score, this weekend’s meet at Anderson Aquatic Center is primarily between swimmers, not their schools. In Friday’s pentathlon, which begins at 11 a.m., each swimmer from both teams will compete in all five events. The athlete with the lowest combined time from those events is the winner. Saturday’s relays begin at 9 a.m.

With each player competing in each race, the pentathlon will be an opportunity for coaches to get a look at their athletes in events they don’t normally compete in, particularly incoming freshmen.

“This is a fun meet for us, a totally different format than a traditional dual meet,” Meehan said. “It’s really a kind of fun environment for our guys just to get up and race events sometimes that they would never race, which they really enjoy.”

The Bears will need some new athletes to step up to fill the holes left by last year’s graduating class. This will be the Bears’ first meet without several key members of last year’s squad, notably NCAA Champions Josh Daniels, Damir Dugonjic, and 2008 Olympic gold-medalist Nathan Adrian. But the Bears also return a number of key athletes, many with experience from last year’s championship.

This weekend serves as an opportunity for the team to come together again.

“I think we have a really good core group,” Meehan said. “And when you add our freshmen into that, we have a very good team this year. But it doesn’t really matter right now. Right now it’s more about making sure that we’re learning to work as a group, we’re learning to communicate the right ways, we’re learning to work the right ways.”

This is a different Bears team than last year’s. But with any luck, the end result will be the same.