Missy Franklin propels Cal women’s swimming over No. 1 Florida

Ariel D. Hayat/Staff

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You know you have a deep team when the best swimmer in the world doesn’t even race in the event in which she holds a world record.

Cal women’s swim head coach Teri McKeever said she felt she needed to put freshman Missy Franklin in events in which she could score the most points for her team against the No. 1 Florida Gators. As a result of Franklin’s efforts and similar work by several others, the No. 6 Bears beat the Gators, 238-210.

On Saturday, Cal won eight of the 11 swim events — Florida won both the 1-meter and 3-meter diving events — and the teams finished the day with Cal ahead of Florida, 135-108. On Sunday, the Gators won seven of the 11 swim events, bringing them within a few points of the Bears. The meet hinged on the final two events.

“I felt like we got rocked back on our heels,” McKeever said. “We responded, but we put ourselves in the place of having to respond instead of taking the initiative of being ready to go right out of the gate.”

Franklin won all three events she swam Saturday, even though McKeever opted not to have Franklin — the world record in the 200-meter backstroke — swim the 200-yard backstroke for tactical reasons.

McKeever said it made more sense to have Franklin help the team in the distance events, in which the team is weaker. Because McKeever saw a weakness in the team’s freestyle, especially at 500 and 1,000 yards, she asked Franklin to swim those events.

Franklin said that while the distance events aren’t her specialty, the fact that there isn’t any pressure “makes them fun.”

“I just get to go out and race,” Franklin said, “and especially with Florida, they’re very deep in their distance events and very talented in that specialty. I think I raced 2,400 yards over the two days, so I’m wiped for sure.”

A memorable moment came when Florida’s Elizabeth Beisel, Franklin’s 2012 Olympic teammate, saw Franklin was going to be swimming the 1,000 freestyle and called out to her “1,000 free?” and gave her a look of disbelief. Franklin laughed and nodded.

Beyond Franklin’s adaptability, Cal demonstrated its depth, having many different swimmers score for the Bears.

Freshman Celina Li was extremely versatile, swimming in two individual medley races as well as twice in the butterfly and once each in the breaststroke and in the freestyle. She finished in the top three in all her races, which was crucial to Cal’s victory.

“Coming in, we knew it was going to be a fight, so I think our focus for this weekend was just to get out there and race and not worry about winning or losing,” Li said.

Sophomore Elizabeth Pelton won all three events she participated in Saturday and finished with two firsts and a second Sunday.

Pelton set a pool record in the 200-yard backstroke but said her highlight of the meet was winning the 200-yard IM, because Franklin and Li had been beating her in practice. While Franklin didn’t swim in the 200-yard IM, Pelton swam against Beisel, Florida’s star and a close friend. Pelton said the two talk almost every day.

“In the 200 IM, afterward, (Beisel and I) just kind of looked at each other, and I was like, ‘Welcome to Cal,’ ” Pelton said.

Shannon Carroll covers women’s swim. Contact her at [email protected]