In the history of American team sports, there have been many rivalries of note — the Lakers and Celtics , Packers and Bears, and the Yankees and Red Sox all come to mind. None of these come close to the rivalry between Cal and Stanford, however, which has continued for a staggering 128 years.
This is the matchup everyone has been waiting for. The Bears and the Cardinal, two of the best teams in the country, both coming into their final dual meets of the season undefeated. It doesn’t get any more intense than this, as far as the regular season is concerned.
Since the 1999-2000 swim season, the Bears and the Cardinal have met 20 times. In those 20 matchups, Stanford has won 15, including each of the past four. In the past three NCAA Championships, these two teams have finished in the top two — with Stanford taking first place and Cal taking second in all three years.
“I think it’s more or less that we’re looking at our opportunity to race some fast swimmers, and be in an environment that will have high intensity and that will be helpful for NCAA — but I don’t think necessarily that we are going to use it as a predictor for how we’ll do,” said Cal assistant coach Dani Korman.
Generally, a single regular season meet should not indicate which team will win out when the NCAAs come around, but the history between these two teams says otherwise.
In the five matchups that the Bears won, they went on to place ahead of Stanford in four of those five seasons. The only exception was in 2004, when the Bears narrowly beat the Cardinal by two in the regular season and finished just a point and a half shy in the tournament.
Of the 15 times that Stanford won, however, it only topped Cal in the NCAAs 12 of those times; the exceptions were in 2007, 2009 and 2012.
So while these statistics are not a direct predictor of which team will finish higher come the tournament this season, it has had around an 80% successful predicting rate over the past two decades.
Since last season’s tournament, Stanford has lost Ella Eastin and Taylor Ruck. During the 2019 NCAA Championships, Eastin managed to claim two second place finishes and one first place finish in the individual portion, along with taking part in two relays — one that finished first and another that finished third. Ruck managed to log two second place finishes and one third place finish along with participating in three relays. Losing two of the team’s top swimmers, including Eastin — who was arguably Stanford’s best last season — is a pretty significant blow.
The Bears come into this season’s clash with their own losses as well, losing Katie McLaughlin and Amy Bilquist. Bilquist and McLaughlin combined for one third and one second place finish in the individual portion of the tournament, but did participate in three relays together that placed first, and one relay that placed second.
So while Cal lost some significant swimmers for the relays, Stanford lost more when it comes to the individual events. For the first time in four years, the Cardinal should be concerned — because while their best swimmer is long gone, the Bears still have the best freestyle sprinter in the world in Abbey Weitzeil.
No. 2 Cal and No. 5 Stanford will meet up Saturday at Stanford.
Tom Aizenberg covers women’s swim and dive. Contact him at