The cool, blue pool at the Spieker Aquatics Complex represents a place of stability and confidence, only to be pierced by the Cal women’s swim team, as it prepares relentlessly for its upcoming season.
The sun set in the Bears’ favor in the spring of 2015, with the team seizing the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championship. The Bears enter the new season with an air of dominance, paralleled by calm and collected strokes. A new title for a new season. On Friday, Cal will compete for the first time this season in San Luis Obispo at Cal Poly Queen of the Pool at 11 a.m.
With a title as grandiose as the one the Bears now hold, one’s mind naturally slips to the pressure associated with the newly planted expectations.
Assistant head coach Kathie Wickstrand states, however, that the meets in the fall season should only be viewed as a way to let swimmers know where they “rack up” in comparison to one another.
“The only pressure here is the pressure they put on themselves, which is more than we like,” Wickstrand said.
Many of the Bears competed in the FINA World Championships this summer, which sharpened their strokes for the fall season. Former Cal star Missy Franklin swam alongside incoming baby Bear Katie McLaughlin to capture the gold medal in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay. In total, the Bears racked up nine medals — a trifecta of three gold medals, three silver and three bronze.
Despite the close of the Missy Franklin era, she left in her wake a legacy which will never be forgotten.
“Missy is a force to be reckoned with, personality wise. She attracts a lot of people to her because she has a larger-than-life personality,” Wickstrand said. “We have really good leadership in all four classes.”
The team welcomes six new freshmen — McLaughlin, Kathleen Baker, Amy Bilquist, Jenna Campbell, Madi Hurst and Phoebe LaMay — and one transfer student, Valerie Hull. Wickstrand is looking forward to the development of the team dynamics and relationships over the course of the fall season.
McLaughlin and Baker had experience swimming with one another this past summer at Worlds. Three freshmen — McLaughlin, Baker and Bilquist — hold spots on the 2015-16 Team U.S.A. roster.
At the Cal Poly Queen of the Pool meet last year, the Bears were able to top the Mustangs behind impressive swims from then-freshman Noemie Thomas in the 100-yard butterfly, then-junior Rachel Bootsma in the 100-yard backstroke and then-junior Elizabeth Pelton in the 100-yard individual medley. These swimmers will all be competing in Friday’s meet, as well.
“Right now, we are just swimming and getting into shape and getting to know one another. The girls are learning what their roles are,” Wickstrand said.
Isabella Busacca covers women’s swim. Contact her at [email protected].