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Power Rankings: Cal women's swim looks to improve upon this year's 3rd-place finish at NCAAs

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Sports Editor

AUGUST 13, 2014

Featuring some of the best swimmers in the world, the Cal women’s swim team continues to add to a legacy that Cal Aquatics began carving decades ago.

With the addition of Missy Franklin last season, who joined the team with five Olympic medals in hand and a slew of records to her name, the Bears began last season ranked No. 1 in the country. Since America’s sweetheart would be competing alongside renowned swimmers such as Elizabeth Pelton and established veterans like Cindy Tran, some pegged the team to blow its competition out of the water.

Cal was deemed one of the early favorites to garner an NCAA team victory at the end of March, especially with a batch of high-performing underclassmen and with head coach Teri McKeever at the helm. But a successful regular season was blemished by a shocking loss to then-No. 5 USC. The top-ranked Bears were upset by their conference foes, 180.5 to 119.5, winning only four out of the 16 events.

“We weren’t quite as sharp as we were last week,” McKeever said after the meet. “To USC’s credit, they did a great job. They were ready to go from the get-go.”

After coming in second in the 2013 NCAA championships, the Bears headed to Minneapolis in the hopes of finishing at the top of the podium, an honor they had grown accustomed to in the past several seasons. But after a series of miscues — including the 200 medley relay being disqualified during the prelims — Cal finished the meet in third place, behind Georgia and rival Stanford. Despite a strong showing during the last day of the meet, the Bears would ultimately finish more than 100 points behind the Lady Bulldogs.

“We’ve been in the top three for six years in a row, and there are many days where I would have taken that in a heartbeat,” McKeever said to Cal Athletics. “You can be disappointed and hungry, but you have to hold your head up high. I believe we gave it our best shot.”

It speaks to the standards that have been set for the Cal women’s swim team that a third-place finish rings with disappointment rather than achievement. With such a loaded roster and a history of success, spectators could expect nothing short of a national championship to conclude the season. But even with a star in Franklin, that didn’t leave Cal invulnerable throughout the year.

Winning an NCAA title often depends on the work of roleplayers, who may not necessarily win individual events but often contribute points to overall team scores. A team victory thus requires depth through the lineup. Most teams that take first place at the NCAAs are not just top heavy but have swimmers who may accrue points through different events through the meet, including the less-noticed B-finals. Whether it was a lack of depth or simply a stream of consequential mistakes that prevented an NCAA win, the Bears must remedy both these issues if they plan to bring the Lady Bulldogs’ streak of consecutive national titles to an end.

Of the 16 swimmers who competed for the Bears at NCAAs, only two were seniors, leaving much of the core intact for upcoming seasons. Cal will likely enter the 2014-15 season as one of the top contenders for the national title. But to compete with powerhouses like Georgia, the Bears will have to solve the mysteries that haunted them last year. With a swimmer like Franklin in tow, along with rising junior Pelton, Cal will have to shed its inconsistencies if it wants to bring another NCAA championship to Berkeley.

Michelle Lee is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].

AUGUST 13, 2014

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