Under head coach Dave Durden, Cal has achieved a remarkably high level of consistency. Since he coaching the Bears, the team has never finished below fourth and has been first or second at the last seven NCAA Championships.
From Wednesday to Saturday, Cal competed at the NCAA Championships at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta. The Bears finished in second place with 351 points, 190.5 points behind defending national champion, Texas.
Throughout the four-day competition, Cal mustered together three individual titles behind junior double-event winner Ryan Murphy and senior Josh Prenot. For comparison, Texas won nine individual and relay events.
Prenot, a consistent and dependable swimmer on the national level for the Bears, finally earned an elusive NCAA title. In his four-year career, he’s made 11 A-Finals out of a possible 12 individual events at the NCAA Championships, where his only shortcoming was a ninth-place finish in the 200-yard breaststroke last year.
One of the most dynamic pre-meet storylines was the duel between Prenot and Texas junior Will Licon. The first matchup between the two swimmers came on day two in the 200-yard individual medley. With just 50 yards of freestyle left to go in the race, Prenot was leading by .41 seconds. Licon powered through the last two laps to sneak past Prenot by .10 seconds, take the win and record the second fastest time in history, 1:40.04. The duo’s next dueling ground came in the 400-yard medley relay. Licon split a 50.69 on the breaststroke leg, just .02 seconds ahead of Prenot.
The first event of the next day was the 400-yard individual medley — the third faceoff between the two competitors. This time, Prenot surged into the front from the very beginning, clocked some absurdly fast splits and captured his first NCAA title in the second fastest time in history, 3:35.82. Licon, the defending national champion in the event, finished second, 1.58 seconds behind Prenot. Ultimately, Licon would earn the NCAA record and edge out Prenot 1:48.12 to 1:49.38 in the 200-yard breaststroke.
Along with Texas sophomore Joseph Schooling and Florida sophomore Caeleb Dressel, Murphy earned this year’s CSCAA Swimmer of the Year Award. Before coming to college, the trio swam together for the Bolles School Sharks. Between the three ex-teammates, they own six individual titles and six of 10 NCAA records from this year’s championships.
As expected, Murphy authoritatively controlled the backstroke events and showed his all-around talent in the relay events. His winning 43.49 in the 100-yard backstroke was 1.83 seconds faster than the field, while his winning 1:35.73 in the 200-yard backstroke was 2.77 seconds faster than teammate and runner-up Jacob Pebley. Leading off the 200-yard medley relay, Murphy swam the fastest 50-yard backstroke ever, 20.20.
While Murphy dominated backstroke, Schooling controlled the butterfly events and was a key contributor to all five of Texas’ relays. Dressel showed off his sprint freestyle capabilities by consistently putting forth mind-numbing times in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle.
Texas came into the meet as heavy favorites to win the championship. The Longhorns had a perfect balance of stardom and depth in both swimming and diving. In most events, Texas had at least two scoring athletes, making it very easy to overcome its glaring weakness: depth in breaststroke. Licon’s versatility masked the lack of breaststrokers for Texas.
Cal can’t boast that kind of strength. While the Bears have unparalleled ability in the backstroke and individual medley events, the team lacks title-contending divers and high-scoring swims in too many events. Cal certainly has the speed to score more points, but, with the exception of a small handful, the Bears were unable to capitalize on that talent.
Chris Zheng covers men’s swim. Contact him at [email protected]