Cal claims three events at home meet

Stanford’s Chad La Tourette is a world-class long-distance swimmer.

An NCAA champion in the 1650 free and an All-American in all three years on the Cardinal squad, the senior also finished sixth at last year’s NCAA Championships in the 500 free. At Wednesday’s Triple-Distance Meet between Cal and Stanford, La Tourette was a heavy favorite in all three long-distance events.

But as the senior entered the final 25 yards of Wednesday afternoon’s 500 free, Cal sophomore Jeremy Bagshaw was matching him stroke for stroke. The crowd — evenly split between fans of the two Bay Area teams — was as loud as it had been all afternoon. La Tourette’s hand touched the wall a mere 0.15 seconds before Bagshaw’s, but the message was clear.

This Cal men’s swim team can take on any team.

The No. 6 Bears won three of six tri-distance events and 12 of 20 races overall against Pac-12 foe Stanford, proving even though they’re not the same team that won a national championship last year, they can still compete against talented squads.

“There’s never been a doubt in my mind,” junior Tom Shields said. “I think we just need to engender that belief in everybody on our team. The more and more that happens, the better and better we’re going to be.”

The Bears come in third in the Pac-12 in the first CCSCA National Rankings of the season, released Wednesday. Cal is pegged third in the Pac-12, behind No. 3 Arizona and No. 4 Stanford.

But the Bears looked superior to their higher-ranked Bay Area rivals, in large part because of their flexibility as a team. Shields and senior Martin Liivamagi won events for the third consecutive year, each in categories different than the ones they won last year. Shields (2:54.25) won all three backstroke races, and Liivamagi (3:21.20) had the fastest overall time in the breaststroke.

Freshman Tyler Messerschmidt turned in one of the best performances for the Bears on the day, winning the sprint freestyle with a time of 2:44.29. Cal coach David Durden is optimistic about the freshman’s performance going forward.

“Tyler’s getting better, and that’s what we want to see with our athletes, whether they’re freshmen or seniors. We want to see them get better,” he said. “I think he took advantage of a higher level of racing, and that subsequently drew out some bigger performances from him.”

Other individual winners for the Bears included senior Nolan Koon’s wins in the 50 and 100 breaststroke, and Shayne Fleming’s win in the 50 freestyle. Cal also took home the crown in both medley relays, winning each 200-yard race by at least eight-tenths of a second.

This was Cal’s last home meet before winter break, and its last competition until Dec. 1’s Short Course National Championships. Durden expects the team to improve even more in the meantime.

“I think we’ll see a little more of our jelling, of our chemistry coming together as a group,” Durden said.