Each swimmer on the Cal women’s swim team will come stroke-to-stroke with destiny as they part the clear blue pool water in the NCAA Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. The most important meet of the season — the meet that the team has been training and preparing for all year — is here. The No. 1 Bears will look to take home yet another National Championship title after finishing third in 2014.
After a brilliantly executed Pac-12 Championship meet, the pressure has started to amount for the team to bring the same kind of intensity to nationals.
A total of 16 Cal swimmers will look to make their impact in the Greensboro meet to be held March 19-21. The Bears have the best time in eight events — five individual events and three relay events.
In the individual events, freshman Cierra Runge is the top seed in both the 500-yard freestyle and the 1650-yard freestyle. Her strength as a freshman symbolizes the team’s immense pool of talent, ranging across all grades. She also gives the Bears more depth, a swimmer who can take home crucial points in the longer events, something Cal competed without last year.
Junior Elizabeth Pelton holds the No.1 position in both the 200-yard individual medley and the 200-yard backstroke. Her time is a mere split second ahead of her second-seeded teammate, sophomore Missy Franklin.
Franklin will compete in one of her last swims as a collegiate swimmer with a top-ranked position in the 200-yard freestyle, holding this seed by out-racing freshman Cardinal Simone Manuel, 1:41.09 to 1:41.15. Franklin led the Bears to break the American record in the 800-freestyle relay, turning in an incredible final leg in a time of 1:40.68, beating second-place Stanford by more than 10 seconds.
Associate head coach Kristen Cunnane said she will approach the mounting pressure the program faces with a positive attitude.
“There is definitely an element of pressure and expectations,” Cunnane said. “It’s our responsibility as coaches and athletes to not let that seep in. I think (head coach) Teri (McKeever) said it best — ‘Most programs in the country would cut off their right arm to have the pressure we have put on them, so we should look at that as a source of pride.’ ”
The Bears hold the top rank in the 200-yard medley relay, the 200-yard freestyle relay and the 800-yard freestyle relay. The 16 swimmers who qualified for Nationals include junior Rachael Acker, senior Kaylin Bing, junior Rachel Bootsma, senior Camille Cheng, sophomore Marina Garcia, senior Melanie Klaren, sophomore Celina Li, freshman Jasmine Mau, junior Kelly Naze, sophomore Farida Osman, senior Caroline Piehl, freshman Noemie Thomas, sophomore Kristen Vredeveld, Franklin, Pelton and Runge.
With the arrival of the NCAA Championships, a sense of nostalgia has taken hold among the members of the swim team. Individuals within the teams and the teams as a whole have been preparing for this swim meet-the most defining meet-for the entire year, and it brings the season to a close, a goodbye to the team’s seniors and Franklin, who will turn pro at the end of the season.
“It’s emotional for those athletes,” Cunnane said. “It’s emotional for the coaches, it’s emotional for the whole team. I think it’s important to acknowledge that and use it to the team’s advantage.”
Cunnane said the team won’t face any different pressure 24 hours before the start of the meet and won’t do anything different or special to prepare.
“We’ve been preparing for a year for this,” Cunnane said. “Nothing needs to change today or tomorrow.”
Isabella Busacca covers women’s swim. Contact her at [email protected].