Bears blast competition out of water

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Cal women’s swimming dove right into the Early Bird Invitational at Fresno State this Friday and Saturday, absolutely manhandling the competition by a tremendous margin.

The Bears scored 505.5 points in front of the hosts Fresno State, which notched 217 points, and San Jose State, with 80.5 points.

“With the NCAA format, I feel like the team is right where we wanted,” said associate head coach Kristen Cunnane.

Cal not only won all five relays over the two days but also broke the meet record time on the 200 yard free relay. Cal’s domineering team — made up of Kelly Naze, junior Cindy Tran, sophomore Catherine Breed and freshman Rachel Bootsma — won the event with a record-breaking time of 1:35.78.

“I was a little nervous and my first race was a relay. My teammates really helped take the pressure off myself,” said Naze.

Naze, Tran and Breed joined Cal’s lone senior Caitlin Leverenz in the 400-yard medley relay.  They broke another meet-record with an astounding time of 3:45.90.

Individually, Leverenz — the 2012 NCAA champion in the 200 individual medley and the 200 breaststroke — won both breaststroke events with pool and meet recording-breaking times of 1:04.53 and 2:17.23, respectively.

“I was surprised about how the team handled each event so well,” said Naze.

Although one of the glaring weaknesses of the team is its lack of experience, the impressive freshmen class won six individual races on Saturday. Cal Poly’s Queen of the Pool winner, Rachel Bootsma, won the 200 freestyle and the 200 backstroke, both with pool and record times. Bootsma also would have won 400 IM and the 100 back but chose to swim those events as exhibitions.

The Early Bird meet was one in which the Bears expected to improve amongst themselves and to gain valuable learning experience for Cal’s newcomers.

“I have never swam so many events in such a short period of time, but it made me so much more mentally tough,” said Naze.

The Bears have looked extremely competitive against unranked teams thus far in the fall season but have yet to face any real competition; the exhibition was essentially more of a practice than a test.

“We still need to focus on relay starts, turning, and the finer details of the race,” said Cunnane.

Cunnane’s attitude has been to tackle each event one at a time. Judging by the two dynamic wins so far in the season, the team is on the right track.

Johnny Zhang covers women’s swim. Contact him at [email protected]