Spring sports awards: Best team

Tim Binning/TheSwimPictures.com/Courtesy
The Cal mens swim team won its second consecutive national title on March 24.

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Best Teams: Men’s and Women’s Swim

Winning one championship is a big deal. Winning back-to-back championships is an even bigger deal.

But when the Cal men’s and women’s swim teams each won their second straight NCAA championships, it cemented Cal’s standing as the best place in sports to be a collegiate swimmer.

The teams took different roads to their respective championships. The Cal women were ranked No. 1 or 2 all season, steamrolling their competition en route to a 7-1 dual meet record and their first Pac-12 title in three years. Though second-place Georgia made it close on the final day, the Bears pulled away for a 412.5-366 victory. The squad’s third championship in four years was never really in doubt.

Not so for the Cal men.

After losing one of the top senior classes in college swimming history, the Bears weren’t expected to compete for a national title. Cal spent the year at No. 6, a ranking that indicated the Bears weren’t ready to back up their performance at the national level. The squad looked mediocre in dual meet losses to No. 1 Arizona and No. 3 Stanford. Cal looked decent in a second-place finish at Pac-12 Championships, but its chances for a repeat NCAA Championship looked slim.

The Bears proceeded to shock the swimming world.

Not only did Cal win NCAAs, the team did so in convincing fashion. From the squad’s opening win in the 200 free relay, the Bears never relinquished their overall lead.

— Chris Yoder

Honorable Mention: Softball

The Cal softball team is ranked No. 1 in the country for the fifth straight week. (Mary Zheng/File)

The Cal softball team has been sweeping through the 2012 season, leaving some of the best teams in the nation wondering what hit them. The No. 1 Bears have only lost three of their 44 games all season, even in the nation’s most competitive conference.

Cal boasts a dominant lineup, featuring three top-25 finalists for USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. Pitcher Jolene Henderson has only suffered one loss all season (21-1), Valerie Arioto is third in the nation in slugging percentage (1.087) and Jamia Reid is second in the nation in stolen bases (34).

The season is still progressing, but with aims set on a return to the College World Series this summer, Cal is the prohibitive front-runner to win the whole thing.

— Taylor Brink