With the best talent of the Pac-12 pitted against each other in a championship setting from Wednesday to Saturday, the No. 6 Cal women’s swimming and diving team emerged from the waters of Federal Way, Washington, with a third-place finish. The Bears rebounded from their final dual meet of the season, a 172-128 road loss to No. 1 Stanford on Feb. 13, with a strong performance in the Pac-12 Championships but still trailed No. 4 USC and Stanford, who finished first and second, respectively, in the final tally.
Junior Farida Osman absolutely dominated the championships, as she notched a stellar 50.53 time in the 100-yard butterfly that was not only a lifetime best for her but also a Pac-12 Championships record and the nation’s second-best time in the event this season. Her streak continued as she set another championship and school record in the 50-yard freestyle event with her 21.32 time, which beat former Cal swimmer Liv Jensen’s 2012 mark of 21.48.
If not for Stanford junior Lia Neal putting forth a 46.97 time in the 100-yard freestyle, Osman’s 47.20 time and second-place finish would have been the fastest collegiate mark in the event this season. The event also saw senior Rachel Bootsma, competing in the last Pac-12 Championships of her career, take sixth with a 48.44 time.
Stanford has been a huge challenge for Cal this season, and the Bears feel that overcoming them will come down to performance in the small details.
“I feel like we just need fine-tuning in our strokes, working on our starts and turns,” Osman said. “All the hard work is already done. …I feel (the fine-tuning) would help a lot at NCAAs.”
Freshman Amy Bilquist once again helped the Bears tremendously in the short-distance events as she swam the 200-yard backstroke in 1:49.90, the second-fastest collegiate finish in the event this season. Her victory came on the last day of the tournament and was the fourth and last title the Bears claimed during the championships. Freshman Kathleen Baker took second in the event with a 1:50.74 mark.
Cal also claimed a victory in the 200-yard freestyle relay event with the quartet of Osman, junior Kristen Vredeveld, Bootsma and Bilquist. The team notched the best time in the nation for the event this season with their 1:26.77 finish. The 200-yard medley relay team of Bootsma, junior Marina Garcia, sophomore Noemie Thomas and Osman scored the nation’s third-best time this season with their 1:35.45 time, and finished behind Stanford in the championships who took the event in 1:34.15, an American record. The Bears’ medley team won the event at last year’s championships.
Last season, Cal’s victory at the Pac-12 Championships was a precursor to its national title. Cal looks to overcome its third-place finish this season as the team heads into its most important competition of the season when the NCAA Championships start in Atlanta on March 16.
“Our team isn’t great in terms of numbers, but we have a lot of potential so I feel that at NCAAs, (numbers will be less emphasized) which will work to our advantage because our team isn’t that big this year,” Osman said.
The Bears third-place finish to the only two squads that upended them this season, Stanford and USC, serves as a reminder that this team, which for much of last year seemed unstoppable, have weaknesses that its stronger rivals have exploited despite its overall talent.
“Heading into NCAA, we are very strong right now,” Osman said. “We have a lot of people who can score top-16 at NCAA, which will help us a lot in terms of the overall performance of the team. So, I’m really excited to see what we can do because there is a lot of room for improvement.”