Events when Cal men’s swimmers are not favored entering the meet are far and few between. Competing against Team USA is one of these times.
This weekend, the Bears will send seven players as part of the Pac-12 team in a dual meet showdown against members of U.S. national team in a short-course yards format at the University of Southern California. This is the second installment of the USA College Swimming Challenge, and considering that Team USA handily defeated the best from the Big Ten last year 349-247, the Bears and the rest of the Pac-12 will certainly have their work cut out for them.
Seniors Connor Hoppe, Justin Lynch and Matthew Josa, the last of whom claimed the King of the Pool title earlier this season at Cal Poly, are the headlining representatives from the No. 1 team in the nation. They will be joined by junior Andrew Seliskar and sophomore Zheng Wen Quah, both of whom finished less than a half second behind Josa in that same meet. Rounding out the Bears delegation are sophomore Michael Jensen and freshman Sean Grieshop, of which the latter competed for Team USA at the 2017 World University Games.
Cal men’s head coach David Durden will be with them in Los Angeles as one of the two head coaches for the Pac-12 men’s team, along with Stanford head coach Ted Knapp. Durden has had a long history with the U.S. national men’s team, serving as its head coach at the 2015 World Championships and assistant coach at last year’s Olympics, as well as the 2011 World Championships.
“We’re racing the best team in the world,” Durden said. “And there’s a challenge with that, when you step up on the blocks and the folks going against you are the best in the world. … Competing against the best in the world is hopefully going to bring out the best in us this time in the year.”
Seven Rio Olympians, four of whom are Cal alumni, will represent Team USA, which is led by UC San Diego coach David Marsh. 2017 graduate Ryan Murphy and 2013 graduate Tom Shields both won gold at the Olympics last year, the former breaking the world record for 100-meter backstroke in the process. Jacob Pebley and Josh Prenot, graduates in 2016, will also be standing opposite former teammates and conference opponents.
“We’re kind of beating up on ourselves with ourselves, with our own guys,” Durden said. “So, it’ll be fun, we’re looking forward to it. Like ‘alright, let’s strap it on and get to it.’ … If you step up and can go toe-to-toe with the best team in the world, then going up against the other teams in the college format or in the college landscape — you’re going to be just fine.”
Bears present and past will have a big impact on what is billed as the “the most exciting head-to-head competition in the sport of swimming” this weekend. The only thing left to see is if the current Bears are up to the challenge of keeping pace with the world’s best.