Cinderella stories constantly plague the best teams in every sport. From March Madness to the World Cup, competing at the highest level always guarantees extra pressure and a level of uncertainty, especially for the top-ranked team.
But increased pressure and uncertainty isn’t unfamiliar territory for the undefeated No. 1 Cal men’s swim and dive team (6-0), which has dominated every opponent it has faced so far this season. The Bears will see many of the same teams again as they look to defend their Pac-12 title, starting March 6 at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Washington.
Last year, Cal won seven individual and four relay titles to be crowned 2018 Pac-12 champions, crushing the rest of the field. Second-place finishers Stanford scored more than 200 points fewer, showing how strong the Bears were in relation to the rest of the competition. Finishing third was USC, followed by Arizona State, Arizona and lastly Utah coming at sixth.
Cal has arguably the deepest team in the nation, led by a strong and experienced class of seniors. Standout senior Andrew Seliskar, the two-time reigning Pac-12 swimmer of the week, will be looking to continue his success in the pool. Seliskar won the 200 breaststroke in the 2018 Pac-12s, breaking the championship record as well as earning Pac-12 Swimmer of the Meet, and he should be expected to add a few more individual titles to his collection.
For distance, senior Nick Norman will be a big weapon for the Bears as the defending Pac-12 1,650-yard freestyle champion and the third-place finisher at the 2018 NCAAs. Finishing second to Norman at Pac-12s was his sophomore teammate Sean Grieshop, who will most likely be looking to get that one-two finish for Cal again. Junior Zheng Wen Quah also won an individual event in 2018, placing first in the 200 butterfly for the Bears.
The Pac-12 conference boasts some of the top swim and dive programs in the country. In addition to top-ranked Cal, Stanford is ranked seventh, USC is tied for 10th, Arizona is 15th, Arizona State is 17th and Utah is 20th, so all teams in the conference championship are ranked in the top 20.
While the conference may be strong, the Bears haven’t had much trouble with any of their opponents so far this season. Most recently, they handily defeated the Cardinal and before that, the Trojans — the two highest ranked teams behind them.
For the last 39 years, the Pac-12 title has either gone to Stanford or Cal, except for when USC beat out the two in 2015. The Bears’ rise back to the top began in 2013 after ending the Cardinal’s 31-year winning streak, part of which should be credited to the outstanding leadership of Cal head coach Dave Durden, who was recently named the U.S. 2020 Olympic men’s swimming head coach.
Cal will look to keep its form as the favorite to win the Pac-12 Championships for the second year in a row.