With a slim margin over Stanford’s 200-yard medley relay squad, senior Farida Osman dove into the pool as Cal’s reliable anchor. Her daunting task was to hold off was to hold off Cardinal sophomore Simone Manuel: one of the world’s finest sprinters who is well-acquainted with ridiculous relay swims. Her sprint of 20.78 bested Osman’s 21.09 to anchor the first event, which allowed Stanford to win by .1 seconds.
For No.1 Stanford and No. 2 Cal, the 200-yard medley relay set the tone for the rest of the Pac-12 Championship, which lasted from Wednesday to Saturday at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center. Ultimately, the meet ended with the Cardinal earning 1587.5 points, while the Bears and the Trojans finished with 1392 and 1250.5 points, respectively.
Despite falling short, Cal’s program is certainly heading in the right direction. Sophomore Phoebe Lamay led a young diving squad with top-six finishes in the 1-meter and platform diving events. Even though diving remains among the Bears’ weaknesses, it’s not as much of a liability anymore.
Part of Cal’s struggle was the inability of some of its stars, such as sophomore Amy Bilquist and freshman Abbey Weitzeil, to continue their strong season-long performances.
On the first night of competition, Weitzeil’s breaststroke leg in the 200-yard medley relay and her leg in the 800-yard freestyle relay kept the Bears within reach of both of Stanford’s winning relays despite both legs not being part of Weitzeil’s specialty. Weitzeil continued her strong start by earning a third-place finish in the 50-yard freestyle behind Osman and Manuel. By the third night’s 200-yard freestyle finals, Weitzeil was clearly off as she faded from the battle for second to eighth place and laid down on the pool deck before pulling out of the meet.
While Weitzeil faltered, fellow freshmen Maddie Murphy took major steps toward being the next biggest Murphy on campus as well as Osman’s potential replacement as a sprint freestyle and butterfly specialist. Murphy reached personal bests in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly by a half-second in each, which earned her spot on the runner-up 200-yard freestyle relay.
Even without Weitzeil for half the meet, Cal’s freshmen class performed extraordinarily well in their first collegiate championship. This experience will be invaluable as they learn how to deal with the prelim-finals format of collegiate swimming and the fatigue of a multi-day competition.
For this young squad, Cal sophomores Kathleen Baker and Katie McLaughlin were models of consistency and excellency. Baker’s meet culminated with a quick leg on the 400-yard freestyle relay and the 200-yard backstroke — the Bears’ only event win this meet and an event that Cal has won five consecutive years. While logging two personal bests, McLaughlin, who had a fourth-place and two third-place finishes, is inching closer to leaving all lingering traces of her injury behind her.
It appeared that no matter what the Bears tried, Stanford immediately responded with one of its many weapons. In addition to Manuel, Stanford’s talented squad proved too much for Cal to handle at the Pac-12 Championship. Nevertheless, the Bears get a clean slate for NCAA Championship, where the ability of a team’s stars to excel exceeds the depth of its overall roster.
Christopher Zheng covers women’s swim. Contact him at [email protected].