Cal women’s swim prepares for U.S. Winter Nationals

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With a slight plunge into the pool, the swimmers on the Cal women’s swim team will make a momentous splash into the cool, blue water to start their races. The splash will create small ripples stemming from each stroke taken, which will create a ripple effect that the team hopes will be representative of their overarching, powerful results across the board.

Dec. 3-5 marks the Bears’ final swim meet of the fall season with the U.S. Winter Nationals. Its results will echo assumptions about how the team will perform in the upcoming spring season. Cal will travel to the rainy state of Washington to participate in the competition, which is held in Federal Way. The day after the meet ends, the swimmers will immediately participate in the Short Course National Time Trials, which will take place in the same pool.

As assistant coach Kathie Wickstrand put it, this meet “isn’t a typical college meet.” The meet itself is an invitational, following the NCAA format. The fact that it is a U.S. swim meet means that qualifiers span a wide variety of ages.

“You could be 13 in this meet or you could be 33,” Wickstrand said. “The best swimmers in the country go to a meet like this.”

As for Cal, every swimmer will be sent to the meet to showcase their strongest events. This meet will be the second competition in a row for the Bears that features a long-course meter format, rather than the typical short-course yard style. Wickstrand views this meet as a way to mobilize and revitalize the team after a comfortable break.

“I think they all had a really nice break over Thanksgiving which was well-deserved,” Wickstrand said. “We know they still trained hard over break because we gave them work outs to do.”

One specific swimmer who will be making a splash at the meet is senior Rachael Acker, who captured her best time in the 100-yard freestyle at the 2015 Pac-12 Invitational in a speedy 48.79 seconds. Additionally, a zippy 1:45.08 gave her a personal record in the 200-yard freestyle at the NCAA Championships.

“I think it’s a really cool opportunity that we get to actually swim in the same pool that we’ll be racing in for Pac-12s, and we get to swim in it so early in the season,” Acker said. “I’m excited to see how everyone does. It will be a very fast, competitive meet. I am excited to be a part of a Cal presence at a National meet.”

Wickstrand relates the U.S. Winter Nationals to the Olympics, in that both the 2016 Rio competition and the upcoming meet feature the same long-course format, as opposed to typical collegiate meets, which feature short-run events. Competing in a long-course meet enables top-level swimmers to qualify for the Olympic Trials or better their seeding at the Trials. Because of the transition to a long-course format in order to train the athletes for Rio 2016 from the traditional short-course style, the qualifying standards became much harder in each event from last year.

“We are focusing on not only the college season but also doing well at an elite level,” Wickstrand said.

Isabella Busacca covers women’s swim. Contact her at [email protected]