The downpour Saturday caused the onlookers at Spieker Aquatics Complex to put up hoods and unfurl ponchos, yet still, Mother Nature distributed her share of wet socks on the day. Just as clothing felt the full force of the rain last weekend, No. 4 Cal’s title hopes also took a similar drenching with a 192-107 loss to No. 3 Stanford.
An upset win seemed like a very real possibility after the Bears stormed out of the gate in the early going, notching wins in three of their first four events. Junior Abbey Weitzeil turned on the jets to prove why she ranks as the nation’s best freestyle sprinter, turning around a three-quarter-second deficit for the Bears in the 200 medley relay with an anchor freestyle time of 21.07 seconds.
Weitzeil would go on to secure wins in her trademark 50-yard and 100-yard free events with exclamation points — her 50 free time of 21.99 was good for second best in the all-time Cal dual meet record book, falling just short of her own mark of 21.92 set two weeks ago against USC. She also delivered a lightning-quick time of 48.06 in the 100 free, matching alumna Natalie Coughlin’s 2003 Cal dual meet record and breaking Simone Manuel of Stanford’s pool record of 48.17.
Stanford’s all-around threat Ella Eastin performed as expected at Spieker, earning a meet-best three individual wins in the 200 fly, 200 individual medley and 200 backstroke. Cal’s strong start was stifled, though, as the Cardinal ended the day with wins in 10 of 16 events.
Seniors Katie McLaughlin and Amy Bilquist were two of the five Bears swimming in their final home competition, and they combined for wins in the 100 back, 200 free and 100 fly. Bilquist’s curtain call to the fans at Spieker was a 52.16 time in the 100 back, setting a season best with a time just a hundredth of a second away from her own Cal dual meet record.
McLaughlin notched wins in the 200 free and 100 fly, edging out the nation’s No. 1 recruit, Cal freshman Isabel Ivey, in both events. Fittingly, as Bilquist and McLaughlin move on, Ivey will be one of the key underclassmen leading the line next year. With two third-place finishes in one of the most high-intensity meets of the season, Ivey is displaying the talent and composure to potentially anchor the Bears’ squad for meets to come.
It’s far too early to let this season go and think about next year yet, however — Cal will have a chance at redemption in the upcoming Pac-12 and national championships. At the Pac-12 Championships just two weeks from now, the Bears will aim to avenge their defeat to Stanford when it counts. Later, at the NCAA championships, Cal will see familiar foes in both the Cardinal and the No. 1 Texas Longhorns, who handed the Bears their only other loss this year.
After a sizable loss to Stanford, it goes without saying that the Bears will be heavy underdogs to the Cardinal going into the final stretch of the season. An inspiring performance for the Pac-12 title might be just what Cal needs to get back on track heading into nationals. The last time Cal won the national championships after a dual loss to Stanford was in 2012, but there will certainly be a spark of hope on the Bears’ side heading to Washington.