Under the soft conditions of the California winter sun, a brutal swim meet started to boil at the Bears’ home territory, the Spieker Aquatics Complex. Steam arose from the familiar pool, releasing a chlorinated smell mixed with sweat and victory.
The No. 3 Cal women’s swim team sought to justify its spot as one of the top ranked teams in the nation with a 197.5-102.5 victory Friday against USC and a 184-113 tally Saturday against No. 17 UCLA.
Heat after heat, event after event, swim after swim, the Bears glided across the surface of the 25-yard pool with a seeming ease of their strokes. On the benches, fans started to chant “Cal Bear relay!” as the USC swimmers rallied back with “Trojan relay!” It was the Bears’ echo, however, that ultimately remained.
Associate head coach Kristen Cunnane was impressed by the will and strength demonstrated across the board both Friday and Saturday.
“I’m really proud of how the girls showed up today,” Cunnane said after the meet against UCLA was concluded. “We caught fire yesterday, and one of the things we challenged them with was to keep that fire burning and to come out and be tough and ready to race.”
The Bears proved their depth in the weekend’s meets, capturing titles in both short- and long-distance swims. Freshman Cierra Runge demonstrated her strength in swimming long-distance events after winning the 500- and 1,000-yard freestyle heats against UCLA and the 1,000-yard freestyle against USC.
Sophomore Missy Franklin and junior Elizabeth Pelton willed their bodies off the wall in the 200-yard backstroke against USC, while the announcer said, “you will remember this event forever.” Pelton outraced Franklin, the long-term American record holder, in a split-second victory, 1:54.62 to 1:54.72.
“I think, on the last few turns, I looked underwater and saw that she was really close, so I sprinted from the flags in and hoped that it worked,” Pelton said.
Pelton also seized the win in the 200-yard individual medley at the USC swim meet and the 100-yard and 200-yard backstroke events against UCLA.
After a disappointing 2013-14 season, the extremely versatile Olympic gold medalist Rachel Bootsma, a junior, racked up an abundance of points for the Bears. She captured victories in the 100-yard backstroke, and she was part of the winning 400-yard medley relay and 400-yard freestyle relay against USC. In Saturday’s meet, Bootsma won the 200-yard butterfly and 100-yard freestyle, and she was again part of the Bears’ winning relays, the 200-yard medley relay and the 200-yard freestyle relay.
Sophomore Farida Osman displayed her immense capabilities in the short-distance events, including winning in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle and finishing second in the 100-yard butterfly against USC. The day’s success translated into Saturday, with wins in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly.
Despite the pressure of clocking wins, the swimmers greeted each other with cordiality and goofy smiles in between events. Each Cal swimmer had a flash tattoo (a gold-leaf temporary tattoo) wrapped around her bicep, just to “have fun,” as Osman said.
Franklin shook the hands of swimmers in neighboring lanes as she prepared to say good-bye to her collegiate career with her last meet as a Bear, a meet against Stanford, looming on the horizon.
“Definitely bittersweet,” Franklin said. “I’m so proud of how I swam today and how we swam yesterday against USC. It was exciting. We really went out there and fought for it, so I’m so excited for the rest of the season, but also I’m really sad that I only have one more (dual meet) left.