The home stretch is most commonly defined as the last straight portion of the track before the finish line of a racecourse. In life, a racecourse can take a plethora of forms. For a CEO, the home stretch may be the last month before the end of a quarter. For a student, it may be the time in between the last midterm and the first final. For an athlete, it’s the end of the regular season right before the playoffs arrive.
And for Cal, that time begins now.
Pac-12s and the NCAA tournament are fast approaching, as there are only five dual meets left in the regular season.
Just this past weekend, the Bears’ dive team competed in their final diving invitational of the season at UCLA.
“(It was) a very eventful meet across the board. I think as a team we did well. Sticking to what we came here to do which was focusing on the training aspect and the corrections that we have been trying to make in practice. Both the girls (Briana Thai and Cassie Graham) did very well,” said Cal diving coach Derek Starks.
Junior Briana Thai did especially well, making the finals on 1-meter, 3-meter and springboard events. For the 1-meter and 3-meter dives, only the top 18 make the finals; for the springboards, only the top 12. This means that Thai managed to finish in the top 36% for the platform dives and in the top 24% for the springboard dives, an impressive feat.
Freshman Cassie Graham did not experience the same success, however. “Cassie unfortunately came into the meet and started feeling sick on the first day,” Starks said. “Went a little downhill each day. She was battling a little illness while trying to get through. Still did well, making some corrections. Unfortunately (on) platform, where she had her best chance of making a zone score, her first dive — which was also her hardest dive — didn’t go very well. But she came back and finished the rest strong.”
Graham could have used this sickness as an excuse for her bad performance or even sat out entirely. Instead, she showed perseverance and determinism, competing on all three days. Although she ultimately did not get the scores she was looking for, Graham showed that she will push herself to her limits in order to succeed —a promising sign for her future at Cal.
“(Graham is) one of the hardest workers I have ever had the privilege of coaching,” Starks said.
The Bears’ home stretch of five dual meets in four weeks begins Friday against Arizona, followed by Arizona State the very next day.
Cal has yet to face Arizona State, but faced off against Arizona earlier this season at the Minnesota Invitational — where the Bears placed first and the Wildcats failed to finish in the top three. Arizona and Arizona State are not pushover teams, however. In the December College Swimming Coaches Association of America top 25 ranking list, Arizona was ranked 22nd and Arizona State ranked 21st.
So in order for the No. 2 ranked Bears to keep their position and undefeated status, they will have to not play down to their competition. It’s a phenomenon you see in any team sport, where a team that considers itself to be elite puts in less effort into playing a lower ranked team than a higher one. This mentality leads to more losses and proves that the team was never as elite as they considered themselves. So far this season, the Bears have not done this and should not start now.
This weekend will also mark the final home meet for six seniors: Keaton Blovad, Alexa Buckley, Aislinn Light, Maddie Murphy, Courtney Mykkanen and Abbey Weitzeil. They have helped the Bears reach three consecutive second-place finishes and hope to end their collegiate careers with a championship.
The Bears take on Arizona on Friday at 2 p.m., and Arizona State on Saturday at noon. Both meets will be at the Spieker Aquatics Complex.
Tom Aizenberg covers women’s swim and dive. Contact him at