No. 1 Cal heads to Pacific Northwest for Pac-12 Championships

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The Pac-12 Championships are usually filled to the brim with several NCAA leaders and Olympians alike, and this year’s competition is no exception — as of a couple of weeks ago, five teams were ranked in the CSCAA Top 25 poll with Cal at the very top.

The No. 1 Cal women’s swim team is headed to Federal Way, Wash., this week to take part in the Pac-12 Championships from Wednesday to Sunday.

The Bears (7-2) are aiming for their third Pac-12 team championship, with the last one obtained in 2012. The team’s legacy has been building momentum in the last five years, with three NCAA team titles, including back-to-back wins in 2011 and 2012. The Bears’ legacy has been reaffirmed with the nation’s top spot securely under their belt as the team prepares for the Pac-12 Tournament.

“The meet format of Pac-12s is a better setup for us than a dual meet,” said Cal associate head coach Kristen Cunnane. “We hope to take the lessons we have learned in our dual meets and use them to improve individually and collectively.”

A large part of that top spot in dual meets is due to the team’s addition of freshman Missy Franklin, who not only brings her five Olympic medals with her to UC Berkeley but also holds the world record in winning the 200-meter back in 2:04.06.

Franklin has been a constant winning force for the Bears this season, taking home her share of first-place finishes in dual meets and helping win several relay events for Cal in her first year.

Franklin isn’t the only Bear who has helped solidify Cal’s top spot this season. Sophomore Elizabeth Pelton returns to the Pac-12 champions for her second year, with the NCAA 2013 Swimmer of the Year award under her belt from her freshman year, along with several other awards from her first stint at the Pac-12 Championships and NCAA Tournament. Pelton is right up there with Franklin in terms of success, finishing second to her teammate in both the 100 back and 200 back at the 2013 U.S. National Championships.

Not only do the Bears have fresh talent in the form of their younger swimmers, but Cal can also count on their seniors to lead the team. The Bears have four seniors competing in the Pac-12 Championships, all of whom have had successful showings at previous Pac-12 tournaments.

Cindy Tran will be at the front of the pack, with a two-time NCAA champion title in the 100-yard back, winning titles in both 2011 and 2012. Tran has won multiple Pac-12 and NCAA titles over the course of her four years for the Bears and entered this season ranked sixth in Cal history in both the 100 back and 200 back.

For all the success the Bears have had this season, they have also run into minor road bumps along the way — the two losses they experienced during the dual-meet season. Cal lost to No. 4 Stanford and No. 5 USC, both of which are predicted to bring some serious competition to the Pac-12 Tournament.

Stanford (10-0) is the Pac-12 defending champion and winner of 19 conference titles overall. The team beat Cal just a couple of weeks ago in what was a meet full of close races. The Bears spent the day being just out-touched by the Cardinal, giving Stanford the 167-133 win over Cal.

USC (7-1) was the Bears’ first loss of this dual-meet season, losing by a wide margin of 180.5-119.5. Cal had a dismal performance, with none of its usual top swimmers able to beat out the Trojans for first place. Both Stanford and USC have reigning Pac-12 and NCAA champions who will be competing against the Bears this week.

“(The Pac-12s) will be a great chance for us to sharpen before NCAA and see where we are,” Cunnane said.

Alicia Fong covers women’s swim. Contact her at [email protected]