Under the bright Friday night lights, the Chris Kjeldsen Pool will play host to the 25th annual Pacific Invitational. Although Stockton, California, isn’t the same as Dillon, Texas, there will still be plenty of clear eyes and full hearts on the pool deck.
To embrace the early-season livelihood and entertainment, Pacific women’s field hockey, soccer and volleyball teams will compete in an exhibition 200-yard freestyle relay. But for most swimming teams, this weekend is a chance to get reps and knock off the rust from the end of last year.
Cal men’s swimming team (1-0) will race against Fresno Pacific, Air Force, Denver and Pacific. The two-day competition will feature 17 events: 50-, 100-, 200-, 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle, 100- and 200-yard in butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke, 200- and 400-yard individual medley and 200- and 400-yard freestyle and medley relay.
The invitational is just missing the three diving events and the 800-yard freestyle relay from the traditional 21-event lineup at the championships. This weekend’s two-day competition will also have a different format than the championships. The meet will be a timed final, which means each race will only be swum once and the top 16 swims of each event will score.
Two weeks ago, the Bears opened their season by dominating Pacific in a dual-meet. Even without some of its veteran stars, Cal — led by its talented freshmen group — earned its first victory of the year, 172-52. Behind a stellar performance by freshman Michael Jensen, the Bears swept the top two places in every event — and top three in most — except the exhibition 200-yard individual medley, in which Cal had the four fastest times.
At last year’s edition of the Pacific Invitational, the Bears elected to send a smaller subgroup of their roster. Although the format differs from the conference and national championships, the competition functions as a great opportunity to log in racing experience. The coaching staff probably won’t choose to make the same decision with a handful of the team missing the action two weeks ago in the dual-meet against Pacific.
Cal seniors Ryan Murphy and Long Gutierrez haven’t logged any racing minutes — though, seconds are probably the more appropriate temporal unit — since Rio. Junior transfer Matthew Josa hasn’t been part of a collegiate team competition since the 2015 Division II NCAA Championship. After a relatively quiet post-NCAA Championship spring and summer, junior Connor Green still needs to step into the shoes of graduated swimmers.
The most interesting storyline throughout the season will be the development of the team’s youth. Channeling the successes from the dual-meet against Pacific to high-quality races at multi-day competitions is essential for the underclassmen to have a positive end to their season. Cal sophomores Andrew Seliskar, Mike Thomas and Nick Norman need to build upon their strong starts, as the Bears will rely on that threesome significantly more this year.
Bears freshmen ‘Aukai Lileikis and Pawel Sendyk, in addition to the collection of international freshmen athletes, can use the racing experiences from the Pacific Invitational as an important learning experience before the more intensive competitions later this year. Making the most of this weekend’s racing is critical for the team because it’s one of two more racing opportunities before the mid-season invitational.
Christopher Zheng covers men’s swim. Contact him at [email protected].