After Cal senior Farida Osman managed to hold off Stanford senior Lia Neal in the final dual meet of the season, one can only wonder if the race will foreshadow the 400-yard freestyle relay — the last event — of the Pac-12 Championship.
From Wednesday to Saturday, the Cal women’s swimming and diving team will compete against other conference foes at the Pac-12 Championship. The Bears are seeking their fourth title in the past nine years, which will continue to solidify their reputation as one of the premier collegiate swimming programs.
The quest for this year’s Pac-12 title will be fought among No. 1 Stanford, No. 2 Cal and No. 5 USC, while No. 17 Arizona will look to play spoiler in that fight. The Trojans — the reigning Pac-12 Champions — will try to avenge their in-season dual meet losses to the Cardinal and the Bears, both of whom will probably be more focused on the hunt for a NCAA title. For these teams, however, the biggest roadblock to a conference title will be the decision to rest and taper their stars who have already qualified for the NCAA Championship.
One of the more intriguing races of the championship will be the 100-yard freestyle. The event will feature the 100-meter freestyle Olympic champion Simone Manuel, Team USA’s other representative in that event, Abbey Weitzeil, and Swedish Olympian Louise Hansson — though she may drop the event. The top-six seeds could feasibly make the NCAA A-final in this event in March, which will make this race one of the most exciting ones over the next week. Although the entry list currently includes Stanford freshman Katie Ledecky, her event schedule may already be too full to include the 100-yard freestyle.
Ledecky will pace the 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle — events where she’s already the NCAA and American record holder. She’s also the second seed in the 200-yard freestyle and the 400-yard individual medley.
Ledecky is just one example of the Pac-12’s dominance in swimming as the conference has many of the nation’s top swimmers. Stanford, USC, Cal and Arizona will feature several swimmers capable of taking the conference title as well as the NCAA title in a month.
Cal is led by almost a dozen Bears with either Olympic or international experiences, such as the sophomore quartet of Kathleen Baker, Amy Bilquist, Phoebe Lamay and Katie McLaughlin.
The Pac-12 Championship won’t necessarily be won by the elite athletes. Instead, it may come down to how well the divers, sophomore Jenna Campbell and junior Maija Roses, as well as the freshmen can excel and score points in Cal’s weaker events such as diving, 100- and 200-yard breaststroke and the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events.
With the SEC and Big Ten Conference Championships already concluded, this event will be an excellent preview for the NCAA Championships. Cal head coach Teri McKeever will know exactly how to strategize the races and the championship season in order to maximize the team’s ability to win. Despite having one of the world’s greatest coaches, the Bears will need to perform at the peak of their ability in order to face a titan like Stanford.
Christopher Zheng covers women’s swim. Contact him at [email protected].