Although Tua Tagovailoa’s Crimson Tide and Zion Williamson’s Blue Devils have reigned supreme when discussing collegiate athletics this year, the Cal men’s swim and dive team must receive its credit as one of the NCAA’s most dominant groups in 2018. This week, Cal will journey to the University of Georgia’s Fall Invitational for its final competition of the calendar year.
The reigning champs of last year’s meet, Cal is coming into the meet ranked as the No. 1 men’s swim and dive team in the nation. At the beginning of the season, the Bears sat in the second slot in the national rankings, but after a couple of stellar performances early in the year, they were escalated to the status of the best in the U.S.
The Bears boast a 2-0 record with wins over Pacific and Utah, and they also handily defeated Cal Poly and Stanford in exhibition matches not listed on the team’s official record.
One factor that has contributed to Cal’s success this season is that each and every swimmer and diver on the roster has pulled his weight in the team’s efforts. At the beginning of the season, the team’s races were headlined by individual performances such as Andrew Seliskar’s “King of the Pool” victory or Connor Callahan’s record-breaking 1-meter dive.
As the season progressed, however, the story has been less focused on individual achievements and more focused on the accomplishments made as a team, and the team’s younger competitors are beginning to step up and play a vital role in the group’s success.
In the Bears’ most recent competition against Stanford, junior Zheng Wen Quah rose to the occasion with a speedy 21.20 in the 50-yard butterfly, winning by a full second ahead of the next competitor. Sophomores Daniel Carr and Bryce Mefford followed Quah’s victory with a one-two finish in the 50-yard backstroke, and Mefford went on to snag first-place finishes in the 100- and 200-yard backstrokes.
Breaststroker Reece Whitley has played a key role in the Bears’ success this season, as the freshman is yet to be beaten in the breaststroke at any distance this year. Thankfully for Whitley, he will get an opportunity to display his skills on the big stage in Georgia in both the 100- and 200-yard breaststrokes.
This weekend, fans can expect a big performance from senior Nick Norman, who saw the podium in the 1,650-yard freestyle at last year’s Georgia Invitational. This season, Norman has been dominant in every long-distance event in which he has participated, with a personal season-best time of 9:06.42 in the 1,000-yard freestyle.
This weekend’s meet will essentially serve as an opportunity for the Bears to get a feel for where they stand heading into the new year, as each swimmer will get the chance to play to their strengths and compete in their primary events. But with a perfect record, two conference wins and a No. 1 national ranking, Cal should already have a sense of its status as one of the NCAA’s most fierce competitors.
The Georgia Fall Invitational will take place from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 in Athens, Georgia, making it Cal’s furthest road trip of the season. The chilly air and the long trek across the country won’t intimidate the Bears, though, as they will come out ready to continue their streak of dominance in their final performance of the calendar year.
Joey Patton covers men’s swimming and diving. Contact him at [email protected].