Cal men’s swim diving into a new year against Pacific at home

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As the summer’s blazing heat slowly drifts away, the flair and hype from Rio begins to fade. In its place, the quest for the next NCAA team title begins. The individual accolades are swept aside, and the focus on being a team races forward.

On Friday, Cal men’s swimming team kicks off its 10th year under head coach Dave Durden against Pacific in Berkeley. Competing against the Tigers has been an annual part of the Bears’ schedule since at least 2012, and in the past four years, Cal hasn’t lost this meet.

Historically, this meet is an opportunity to answer several early-season questions such as: How is the recruiting class doing? The first meet of the year isn’t a time for personal bests — though it’s always nice if that happens. There are little details, however, in the freshmen and transfer athletes’ performances that will function as indicators.

For transfer junior Matthew Josa and freshman Michael Jensen, it’ll be important to prove they can keep pace with the shining stars already on the roster. They have the talent and development to be among the Bears’ best, and setting a good rhythm early in the year will be crucial to a productive season. The rest of the freshman class, however, comprises capable racers and shouldn’t be neglected. The key for them will be to ensure they aren’t filled with jitters for their first collegiate competition.

The meet against Pacific will also help answer other questions as Cal prepares for a long season. Who will replace Josh Prenot as the breaststroke specialist on medley relays? Are any of the Bears’ distance freestyle swimmers ready to challenge collegiate swimming’s elite?

Luckily for Cal, the answers are certainly within the program. Junior Connor Hoppe is primed to be quite successful in the two individual breaststroke races and the two medley relays. Sophomore Nick Norman and junior Ryan Kao, distance freestyle specialists, were on the verge of scoring at the NCAA Championship last year, and any personal bests at the coming championships will get the duo some big-time points.

For the Tigers, the new season is filled with a mysterious potential for success. Last year was probably Pacific’s best in program history, and this season will be an opportunity to build upon it.

Sophomore Makoa Haneberg and redshirt sophomore Yahav Shahaf combined for school records in the 100-yard backstroke, 100-yard breastroke and 200-yard breaststroke. More importantly, the team broke school records in all five relays last year, and they returned 18 of the 20 legs in the record-breaking relays.

Over the summer, the Tigers added former Texas freestyle specialist Clay Youngquist to its coaching staff. Despite being not much older than the members of the team, Youngquist will be invaluable for Pacific as he helped the Longhorns clinch their first NCAA team title since 2010 as a senior in 2015. After graduating, Youngquist joined Team USA at both the World University Games and the World Aquatic Championship. Youngquist, who trained under one of the greatest coaching pairs in the history of swimming, will be useful in teaching the Tigers how to swim well under pressure and how to keep composure. If Pacific wants to beat Cal, it’ll certainly have to keep its poise.

Christopher Zheng covers men’s swim. Contact him at [email protected].