For the illustrious Cal men’s swim team, there may be no place to go, including up. With one of the most dominant team performances of the 2013-14 NCAA season, the squad has firmly established itself atop the power rankings.
There will always be room for improvement if you look hard enough. Individual swimmers can always sharpen techniques or trim seconds off their times. But as a unit, it’s hard to imagine how men’s swimming could improve upon what they accomplished last season.
Last year, the Bears managed to go undefeated throughout the dual-meet portion of the season, winning each match by at least 20 points. Head coach David Durden then led his team to the Bears’ second consecutive conference title and an NCAA Division I championship in late March — Cal’s third national title in four seasons. Part of the team’s success in the pool derived from its talented freshmen, including backstroke specialist Ryan Murphy. Murphy was one of SwimmingWorldMagazine.com’s two six-star recruits and long-heralded as the heir apparent to American backstroking.
“I thought our freshmen did a nice job for the entirety of the year. We had some guys like Ryan Murphy and Long Gutierrez that were able to impact the NCAA meet right away — then a large group of guys that got better through this year,” Durden said. “I think they made the transition really well, both in the pool and in the classroom. It’s not easy, but, by and large, they did a really good job.”
Despite the loss of the Bears’ senior class, including veterans such as Marcin Tarczynski and Jeremy Bagshaw, the absence will be mitigated by an influx of new talent. Ranked No. 1 in the nation by Collegeswimming.com, the Bears’ recruiting class has been touted as one of the best ever and has seven swimmers ranked in the top 50. The incoming freshmen will include No. 5-ranked Kyle Gornay, a sprinter who competed on the US National Junior team, and No. 15 Nick Silverthorn, a breaststroker who holds three national age group records.
“We had a group of athletes that signed this fall that’ll be joining us in August and that group is pretty solidified,” Durden said. “It’s tough to do what these guys do in a day-in, day-out basis, from the training aspect to the competitive aspect. Looking after their international aspirations, as well as the course load that they’re taking, it’s pretty darn impressive, and we’ve just gotta find guys that fall into that and meet that criteria.”
The only slight on this team is its lack of standout divers. Cal has signed one diver to join the program in the fall, Texas native Finn Scribbick, who is a three-time Texas High School State Champion who won bronze at the 2013 Pan Am meet in the three-meter synchronized diving competition. If Cal wishes to maintain this run of success, it will eventually have to find and develop divers who can compete with the best, especially with Texas’ renowned diving program. The Longhorns stood neck-in-neck with Cal during this year’s NCAAs until the third day of the meet, ultimately finishing second with 417.5 points, behind the Bears’ 468.5.
It’s not difficult to imagine Cal taking home another trophy at next season’s NCAAs. Even with the unpredictability of college sports, the Bears will continue to have one of the most stacked rosters in swimming, along with a well-respected coaching staff. There are a number of swimming powerhouses only a tick below Cal, including 2013 NCAA champion Michigan, Florida and Georgia, but it’s unlikely that any will develop the firepower to supplant the Bears over the course of one offseason.