Cal women’s swim takes on in-state rivals USC, UCLA at home

A swimmer gasps for air and lifts their left arms to stroke their way to the finish.
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When a battle for No. 1 public university comes around, the Cal faithful can count on the Bears to bring something extra to the table — so long as basketball isn’t the sport in question. But when both USC and UCLA set foot in Bear territory, expect it to be one of the most exciting weekends of the season.

Coming off wins against Arizona and Arizona State, Cal women’s swim returns home this Friday to face its strongest oppositions in conference play yet against the undefeated Trojans and Bruins. With the last dual meet of the regular season against Stanford looming, the Bears will surely use their next two contests as a barometer of their chances to strike down the Cardinal two weeks from now.

The national-powerhouse reputation that defending NCAA champion Stanford carries doesn’t quite apply to Cal’s SoCal rivals, but a consistently contending USC and a resurgent UCLA are more than capable of making the Bears work hard for wins this weekend.

The Trojans come into their meet with Cal carrying a slight ranking and point advantage (852.70-848.00) across their dual meets this season; the Bears will be aiming to hand them their first dual loss of the season. USC also faced current No.1 Texas, who handed the Bears their sole loss so far this season. There should be no quarter given Friday, as Cal and USC are two closely matched teams that are both poised to make a run for the conference championships. A win against USC should provide a huge confidence boost for the Bears.

The Bruins take the trip north as a dark horse to surprise Cal on Saturday. Though the Bruins come in with an undefeated record in dual meets, their dual point total of 787.50 is ranked 27th in the nation compared to Cal’s sixth-place total of 848 — a meet with Stanford a day before facing the Bears could also put UCLA’s winning streak in jeopardy.

Cal also saw their cross-California neighbors at the Georgia Fall Invitational, where the Bruins finished fifth — two places behind the Bears. After UCLA pulled off upset wins against both Arizona schools, however, it would be unwise to discount the talent that the Bruins bring to Spieker Aquatics Complex. The Bears will need to be on their guard if they want to prevail against an all-too-familiar Pac-12 opponent.

The Trojans will be the first to face the Bears on Friday afternoon at 2 p.m., while the dual meet with the Bruins is scheduled for Saturday at noon. The USC-Cal meet, in particular, should be a thriller — perhaps one of the closest of the year as both teams will bring their A-game to Spieker.

Expectation will be heavy on the Bears’ shoulders as they return home, and the next two meets could drastically change Cal’s projections at the national championships this year. With the Stanford meet due in two weeks, the Bears will need to demonstrate that they can stand their ground against strong Pac-12 opposition this weekend.

Chanun Ong covers women’s swimming and diving. Contact him at [email protected].