No. 2 Cal women’s swim hosts No. 1 Stanford in clash of titans

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When seniors Marina Garcia, Celina Li, Farida Osman and Kristen Vredeveld step onto the blocks this weekend, it will be the last time they don their caps and goggles for a race at Spieker Aquatics Complex. Hayden Tavoda, the lone senior diver, will jump off the diving springboards one final time as the Bears hope to finish the season with an 8-1 record in dual meets.

On Saturday at noon, Spieker will host a clash of titans as No. 2 Cal women’s swimming and diving team takes on No. 1 Stanford.

“Saturday is going to be our last home meet of the year against Stanford. It’s certainly going to be a competitive meet,” said assistant coach Ian Walsh. “It’ll be a sendoff for our senior class.”

Current members of both teams own the American records in all freestyle events except the 200-yard distance, which was logged by former Cal swimmer Missy Franklin. Cal freshman Abbey Weitzeil has the record in the 50-yard freestyle, and she’s only .2 seconds off Stanford junior Simone Manuel’s record in the 100-yard freestyle. Cardinal freshman phenom Katie Ledecky owns the fastest time in history in races longer than the 500-yard freestyle. Her personal best in the 200-yard freestyle is also the fastest in the NCAA right now, which bests Manuel’s time by .11 seconds.

Stanford’s sprint freestyle group is supplemented by senior Lia Neal and junior Janet Hu, who both have incredible résumés as NCAA finalist-level talents. Cal has just enough talent and depth to match Stanford’s sprint freestyle with sophomore Amy Bilquist, junior Valerie Hull and Osman. The plethora of sprint freestyle weapons for both teams will make the 400-yard freestyle relay at the end of the meet incredibly exciting, especially if the meet goes all the way to the last event to determine the winner.

Starting with the 200-yard freestyle and longer, the Bears will struggle to keep up with the Cardinal. Four Stanford swimmers rank in the top 20 this year in the 200-yard freestyle, and the Cardinal has Ledecky controlling the long-distance freestyle races. It will take everything that Cal freshman Chenoa Devine can muster in order to keep pace in the distance events.

“You aren’t really dealing with a loaded (Stanford) roster. We also have a few Olympians on our team as well,” Walsh said. “It’s just matching up as best as we can and putting together a lineup that’s most competitive against a roster like that. I’m sure (Stanford) will be doing the same thing trying to matchup against us.”

Stanford’s biggest weakness is in the breaststroke, which also happens to be Cal’s largest flaw as well. The advantage, however, goes to the Bears, as Garcia is ranked 27th and 8th nationally in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke events, respectively. And the top Cardinal breastroke swimmers aren’t close to Garcia’s national rank in the 200-yard breaststroke.

“This meet will give a lot of information about the Pac-12 Championships,” Walsh said. “It’ll be focusing on the details, their jobs and their plans. We’re not going to find better competition than Stanford.”

While the winner of Saturday’s dual meet will have little consequence on the championship season, the competition will give useful insights for both teams as they will likely duel it out for the Pac-12 and NCAA Championship titles over the next month and a half.

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