Cal women’s swim, dive look to break 4-year title drought

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Every few decades or so there is a university that dominates a sport. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Bruins had men’s basketball. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Tar Heels had women’s soccer. In the 2010s, the Bears have women’s swimming.

It’s rare in any sport, professional or collegiate, that a team has the type of success that Cal has had with its women’s swim team.

Channeling the Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics teams of the 1950s and ‘60s, the Bears have 11 consecutive top three finishes — the most in the nation — including three straight championship appearances.

Each of these past three championship runs have ended at the hands of rival Stanford, leaving Cal with a yearning for redemption this season.

Cal has a new assistant coach in Dani Korman, who brings coaching experience from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is looking to get the Bears over the hump to win their first national championship since 2015.

“First of all it was a great opportunity to work with the best team in the country,” Korman said.

When asked if she expects the streak to be continued, Korman said, “I do believe that that’s definitely a very high possibility.”

In order for this streak to continue, however, some swimmers will need to step up to replace the losses of Amy Bilquist, Jenna Campbell and Katie McLaughlin.

This upcoming season, there are 10 new faces with the chance to do just that: Danielle Carter, Chloe Clark, Emma Davidson, Sarah DiMeco, Ashlyn Fiorilli, Cassie Graham, Anna Kalandadze, Rachel Klinker, Eloise Riley and Ayla Spitz.

When asked about players to keep an eye on, Korman said, “Ayla Spitz has been great in practices.”

Maybe she will be the one to fill the shoes of those who left.

The most intriguing swimmer to look out for this season is rising senior Abbey Weitzeil, who, last year, set the American record in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 21.02.

“I think it’s an exciting year for Abbey Weitzeil,” Korman said. “Being her senior year, I think she has already put up some times at our Cal Poly pentathlon where she was queen of the pool and broke some pool records there, so I think there’s a great season ahead for her.”

After finishing in second place in each of her three years at Cal, Weitzeil looks to finish her collegiate career with a championship.

“The big goal for us to win the national title, but if that doesn’t happen we can still have an acceptable season if people are going best times, (and) being willing to race,” Korman said.

The Bears’ second meet of the season comes Oct. 11, with the Chick-Fil-A Invitational at Fresno State. Along with Fresno State, Cal will be facing the Air Force, San Jose State, San Diego State and Washington State.

“I think all of them will have some good competition for us, but I mean the expectation is that we can just get up and race regardless of who it’s against,” Korman said. “I think there’ll be some good races within the meet, but I think as a team we should come out on top.”

Tom Aizenberg covers women’s swim and dive. Contact him at [email protected].