What was your New Year’s resolution? Was it to start a new diet? Hit the gym? Finally fix your boba cravings?
For the Cal women’s swim team, the answer is simple — finish the season strong.
With marquee Pac-12 matchups coming up in the final few months of the season, the Bears must return to form after a long break and improve upon a shaky 2018 performance. Though they ended the year with a blowout 163-63 win over San Jose State, the loss to No. 1 Texas a meet before was a wake-up call. Cal had not been defeated in a dual meet by anyone other than Stanford since 2016 when they suffered another loss to the Longhorns.
This year’s Bears are surely hoping for a repeat of the 2014-15 championship campaign. In a historic run, Cal lost a meet to Texas early in the year but came flying out of the gate in the second half. The 2015 Bears locked down wins over their entire Pac-12 schedule, handling Stanford on their way to a national title.
That year, led by an outstanding core of seniors and an Olympic world-record holder in sophomore Missy Franklin, the Bears’ extensive roster depth was key as they set the nation alight. This time, talisman junior Abbey Weitzeil and senior Katie McLaughlin lead the line alongside underclassmen Robin Neumann and Sarah Darcel.
The Bears hope that Weitzeil’s stellar run of form carries over into the new year after commanding performances at the Georgia Fall Invitational earned her Pac-12 Swimmer of the Month honors in November, while McLaughlin has been a model of consistency for the Bears this season. 2018 also saw Neumann and Darcel build on their already sizeable freshman year contributions — but with an early loss to Texas, one must wonder whether their efforts will be enough.
Cal will have a chance to erase any doubts about this season as the team takes on the familiar lineup of Arizona State, Arizona, USC, UCLA and Stanford in its final dual meets. The Bears are scheduled to swim back-to-back dual meets for the first time this season against the two Arizona schools this Friday and Saturday. Coming off a long layover, it will be interesting to see how head coach Teri McKeever manages her swimmer selections to account for their first competition in more than a month.
The record indicates nothing but success against Arizona State, who the Bears will face on Friday — Cal won 14 of 16 events last year in a 172-118 meet win at the Spieker Aquatics Complex. With an ongoing streak of more than 15 years of consecutive dual victories over the Sun Devils, the Bears are overwhelming favorites even away from their home pool. Friday’s meet will be an opportunity for the Bears to shake off their hibernation rust, as their later matchups will be far less forgiving.
One such meet comes Saturday against Arizona, a team that Cal last lost to in 2013. In recent years, Cal has won comfortably against the Wildcats both home and away, but any lapse in training or focus could yield a surprise result.
Dropping a meet against either Arizona school would spell trouble for the Bears, especially with tougher matchups still on the schedule. It’s worth noting that both Arizona and Arizona State lost their dual meets against USC and UCLA, so any result Cal gets in the desert will be put to the test back home. Students and local fans are in for a treat as Spieker will host both of the Bears’ Southern California rivals as well as the yearly meet against Stanford in February.
For now, Cal aims to take the home stretch one step at a time. This weekend’s meets are the first — and the most manageable — obstacle for the Bears as they look to end their 2018-19 campaign on a high. With New Year’s resolutions, however, it’s far too easy to let plans go after a small success. Cal will be searching for that success and more as the second half of the swim season starts this weekend.
Chanun Ong covers women’s swimming and diving. Contact him at [email protected].