With a month since its last competition, the Cal men’s swim team will need to claw its way back into the racing spirit against a decorated Bulldogs squad. As the fall season and semester winds down, the Bears will travel to the Gabrielsen Natatorium for the UGA Fall Invitational — their mid-season finale.
In addition to No. 6 Cal, the three-day invitational will include powerhouses such as No. 10 Michigan, No. 13 Georgia and No. 17 Auburn, with Florida State and Virginia rounding out the rest of the field. With stiff competition, the Bears will get a clear sense of where they are and how they may fare at the Pac-12 Conference and NCAA Championships later this season.
Traditionally, the mid-season invitational is an opportunity to hit the automatic NCAA A Standard or be far enough ahead of the provisional NCAA B Standard to earn a bid in the spring. It appears very likely that swimmers such as Cal senior Ryan Murphy will hit the A standard without much trouble, but the fall invite will be a chance to see how the team’s young swimmers have adjusted to collegiate swimming.
In the limited competitions the Bears have entered this year, freshman Michael Jensen has been sensational. He’s proven to be very capable at holding his own ground in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle, but the 50-yard freestyle is still a work in progress for him. He provides a sprint freestyle option that Cal lacked all of last year.
Jensen isn’t the only weapon that the Bears are still developing. Combined with veteran studs such as Murphy and sophomore Andrew Seliskar, Cal will be a dangerous team if it can put all its pieces together for the invitational.
Georgia will be without senior Pace Clark, who elected to join Team USA at the FINA Short Course World Championship. Nevertheless, the roster is still anchored by Olympians such as Canadian newcomer Javier Acevedo, finalist Jay Litherland, silver medalist Chase Kalisz and gold medalist Gunnar Bentz, who is known for being caught up in the Ryan Lochte controversy after the Rio Olympics. The team has incredible depth in the individual medley and distance freestyle events, but the Bulldogs will struggle to keep pace in the shorter races.
Unlike Georgia, Michigan won’t be able to rely on veterans with significant NCAA Championship experience, let alone Olympic experiences, such as Paul Powers and PJ Ransford. Instead, freshmen Charlie Swanson and Jacob Montague are making their marks. The roster is full of young athletes under highly-qualified head coach Mike Bottom, one of Team USA’s assistant coaches at the Olympic Games.
Although Auburn isn’t the same powerhouse that it used to be, the program still has a core group that provides a good foundation for the team. The medley foursome composed of Joe Patching, Michael Duderstadt, Luis Martinez and Peter Holoda will be competitive. The quartet probably won’t challenge any relay ensemble that Cal throws together with Murphy leading off, but Auburn will definitely benefit from competing alongside the Bears.
While ACC’s Florida State and Virginia have struggled in recent years, the competition at the fall invite will lead to fast times and competitive races. With most of the elite Division I teams participating in mid-season invitationals over recent weekends, Cal will have ample opportunity to size itself up against the competition both before and after the meet.