In honor of Major League Baseball commencing its 2019 season last week, it needs to be said — the Cal women’s swim team has recently been the Los Angeles Dodgers of NCAA swimming.
Yes, the Bears are only four years removed from their last championship compared to our SoCal baseball rivals’ 31-year title drought. And yes, the repercussions of a “go bears” versus a “go Dodgers” in the Bay Area are drastically different. But still, the two teams do possess similar qualities — namely, an undeniable pool of talent and recent runner-up finishes.
With this year’s second place finish at NCAA championships, the Bears continued a three-year streak of silvers at nationals. After leading until the final day of the four-day long competition, Cal turned in a total of 419 points, finishing just behind Stanford with 456.5. The result also marks the third straight year that Stanford and Cal finished first and second, respectively.
At NCAAs, the Bears nabbed four event wins, including the 400 medley relay, the 200 and 400 free relays, and a first-place finish from junior Abbey Weitzeil in her trademark event, the 50 free. Weitzeil, the American record holder in the 50 free, lowered her own national best mark to 21.02. She would go on to take fourth place in the 100 and 200 free A finals, while also coming through with a 20.49, the second-fastest leg ever, in the 200 free relay.
Weitzeil was joined by backstroke and freestyle dual threat Amy Bilquist in the 50 and 100 free finals; the senior finished sixth in both events. Bilquist would take home second place in her own specialty event, the 100 back.
Fellow senior Katie McLaughlin came in third in the 100 fly A final, fourth in the 200 fly and finished one place behind Bilquist in seventh during the 200 free.
This year’s national championships marked the final meet for seniors Bilquist, McLaughlin and Jenna Campbell. Though their presence will be missed next year, the Cal team is left in the very capable hands of CSCAA Coach of the Year Teri McKeever and her contingent of stellar underclassmen.
No. 1 recruit Isabel Ivey has already made an impact on the team in her first and only semester at Cal— the freshman finished first in the 200 medley B final, good for ninth best across both A and B finals. Meanwhile, fellow freshman Ema Rajic contributed with a strong breaststroke leg in the first-place 400 medley relay and set a new school record in the 100 breastroke. Fans can expect Ivey and Rajic, along with Cassidy Bayer, Alicia Wilson and Elise Garcia to take on a more established role as sophomores next year.
Of course, the Bears are scheduled to enjoy one more year with Weitzeil and her freestyle dominance, and they will also retain the services of a majority of their roster after losing just three swimmers to graduation. The Bears will head into the offseason prepared to mount another title push next year — despite falling just short this season, Cal has yet again demonstrated its consistency to contend at the top level. Cal will try to score high-potential recruits in the summer and capitalize on Weitzeil’s final year with a blue and gold cap when swimming returns in the fall.
There is plenty to be excited about for the Bears as college swimming draws to a close, and with the talent that Cal possesses, this class of Bears is hungry for a title.
Fourth time could be the charm.
Chanun Ong covers women’s swimming and diving. Contact him at [email protected].