For seven swimmers and one diver, Saturday against Arizona State was the last time they would race in front of a home crowd at Spieker Aquatics Complex.
Their collective impact transcends the results in the pool as Cal men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams adopted 13-year old Jack Zembsch as one of their own for the weekend. Zembsch connected with the Bears through Team IMPACT — a program that matches children coping with life-threatening and chronic illnesses with local college sports teams. Zembsch was diagnosed with metatropic dysplasia early in infancy and suffered from severe spinal deformity, which Zembsch manages because of a successful surgery.
The meets against Arizona on Friday and Arizona State on Saturday were more than just a competition to win. It was an opportunity to honor the eight seniors and make a positive impact on Zembsch’s life. Despite the intermittent rain, a packed crowd of fans, family and friends supported and cheered on Cal’s strong weekend of racing.
Against No. 15 Arizona, the No. 2 Bears roared to a 164.5-118.5 victory. A relay of junior Ryan Murphy, senior Josh Prenot, junior Long Gutierrez and sophomore Justin Lynch won the opening 400-yard medley relay in dominating fashion, 3:10.63, finishing over 5.5 seconds ahead of Cal’s second relay team. The race established a pattern of winning first and second — and sometimes third, too — that would continue throughout the whole weekend. The Bears would go on to end the weekend with the fastest time in every swimming event against the Wildcats and the Sun Devils.
Even though Cal had two double-event winners (Murphy and Prenot), freshman Nick Norman probably had the most impressive day for the Bears. In the 1,000-yard freestyle, Norman’s last 100 yards overtook Arizona junior Tyler Fowler before cruising in over two seconds ahead to finish in 9:11.60. Later in the day, the tandem raced each other again in the 500-yard freestyle. This time, Norman was 0.01 seconds faster than Fowler in the last 50 yards, forcing a tie for second at 4:32.49, behind sophomore Ryan Kao, 4:31.39.
As part of Saturday’s festivities against Arizona State, the seniors on the team assembled the lineup, putting Cal’s swimmers in unusual events.
“There was a lot of variety and diversity in our races, which was good for our guys especially in a two-day back-to-back meet setting,” said Cal head coach Dave Durden. “I thought our guys came out today and swam as well if not better than yesterday and that’s good.”
Continuing the previous day’s trend of taking first and second, the Bears started with a 1-2 finish in the 200-yard medley relay and the 1,000-yard freestyle before senior Trent Williams, Murphy, senior Jacob Pebley and freshman Andrew Seliskar went 1-2-3-4 in the 200-yard freestyle, respectively.
The talented seniors ended their home season with wins by Williams in the 200-yard freestyle, 1:37.01, Prenot in the 100-yard backstroke, 48.73, and 200-yard breaststroke, 1:55.69, Tyler Messerschmidt in the 50-yard freestyle, 20.36, and Pebley in the 200-yard backstroke, 1:42.45.
Prenot, an important piece to the Bears’ chance at an NCAA Championships title later this season, flashed his versatility by adding a second-place finish in the 100-yard butterfly, 47.39, behind Murphy, 46.95, and splitting a 21.10 in the butterfly leg of the 200-yard medley relay. Against Arizona, Prenot split 53.43 in the breaststroke leg of the 400-yard medley relay. Prenot, who usually isn’t a cornerstone of Cal’s relays, found success in relays earlier this season, which the Bears will be hoping he continues into the championships.
“We’re in a nice little stretch here. We’re racing every two weeks and that takes us right to Pac-12 (Championships) and (NCAA Championships),” Durden said. “We’ve shifted from this mode of training and being good everyday to being good in spots. That takes a little bit of adaptation training wise. And, that’s what we will need to work on.”
Chris Zheng covers men’s swim. Contact him at [email protected].