It’s not always possible to turn around a matchup weighed heavily against you, but the times when miracles occur are what make the sporting world a joy to experience. Those moments are enshrined in the pages of vintage Sports Illustrated magazines or told to starry-eyed children by parents at bedtime. But supporters of an underdog are conditioned not to expect these magical outcomes — rather, to treasure them when they happen.
In a conference championship expected to go Stanford’s way, the Cal women’s swim team held its own against tough competition in Washington. The Bears finished with nine event wins, including a clean sweep of all five relays — the 200-, 400- and 800-yard free relays and the 200- and 400-yard medley relays.
At the end of the four-day meet, however, the Bears’ wins were not enough to overcome the Cardinal offensive, as Stanford secured its third straight victory in the Pac-12 Championships through sheer volume of swimmer placements. The Bears won nine events to the Cardinal’s six golds, but Stanford tallied 10 second-place finishes to Cal’s five silvers. Stanford Senior Ella Eastin’s three individual event golds, along with contributions up and down the Cardinal roster, buoyed Stanford to a 423-point margin of victory over the second-place Bears.
Even without a conference title, Cal junior Abbey Weitzeil showed no signs of slowing down as one of the nation’s top freestyle sprinters, setting a new school record of 21.16 seconds in her trademark 50 free and breaking the Pac-12 meet record in the 100 free with a time of 46.35.
Weitzeil would conclude the four-day meet with an individual win in the 200 free, while senior Amy Bilquist rounded off Cal’s nine total wins with the second-best 100 backstroke time in the country, touching in first place with a 50.46. She would go on to deliver two more personal-best NCAA A-cut times of 21.64 in the 50 free and 47.01 in the 100 free, both good for second-place finishes behind Weitzeil and qualification to the NCAA championships.
The Bears’ relay contingents continued to mow down the opposition, piecing together a comeback win over Stanford in the 200 medley relay thanks to a 20.57 free leg from Weitzeil. Her anchor time set a new record for fastest anchor split in Cal history and sits at second-fastest ever.
The 800 free relay was also one for the record book, as the Cal squad of Bilquist, freshman Isabel Ivey, sophomore Robin Neumann and senior Katie McLaughlin came through with a 6:50.63, the fastest time in the nation this year.
Ivey continued to show the poise of an upperclassman at her first conference championships, and with a second-place finish and A-cut time in the 200 individual medley, she will be one of the Cal swimmers who will compete at the NCAA championships in late March. Last weekend, the Bears hit NCAA A cuts in every relay except the 200 medley while automatically qualifying four swimmers to the national championships — Weitzeil, Bilquist, McLaughlin, and Ivey — via A-cut times.
The Bears will travel to Austin for the conclusion of their season — the 2019 NCAA championships from March 20 to 23. There, they will face the nation’s best in Texas, Texas A&M and Michigan — not to mention their familiar rivals in Stanford. Yet again, Cal will be projected to play second fiddle to their Bay Area neighbors, but the Bears will give everything they have left to upstage the Cardinal and make a statement at the national championships this year.
Chanun Ong covers women’s swimming and diving. Contact him at [email protected].