Bears migrate north in attempt to reassert contender status

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It’s tough being a younger sibling. All your clothes are hand-me-downs, you don’t get as much attention and you will always be compared to your older sibling. You could be an Olympic gold medalist, but if your older sibling got a PhD in leaf studies, your parents would probably question why you chose to be an athlete instead of a college graduate.

When it comes to collegiate swimming, the Pac-12 Championships are the little brother to the more prestigious and highly recognized NCAA Championships. The Pac-12 championships are not viewed in the same way, and there is some justification for that. In most conferences, the competition is simply not as strong as it is on the national stage.

For Cal, that is not the case.

The Pac-12 is arguably the toughest conference in the country, considering that teams from this conference have won 17 national championships. In fact, the Pac-12 has more national titles since 1989 than all other conferences combined, 16-15.

So although the conference championships don’t have nearly as much meaning as the NCAA Championships in March, for the Pac-12 it has some significance. For the past three years, the top two teams in the nation have been Stanford and Cal. This season, No. 4 Cal will take on No. 1 Stanford, No. 8 USC, No. 17 Arizona State and No. 24 UCLA, among others, at its conference finale.

Like the national championships, the Pac-12s are a two team race between the Bears and the Cardinal. In their only meeting of the season just over a week ago, Stanford demolished Cal 193-104, which may be a reason for their sudden shifts in rankings. According to the College Swimming and Diving Coaching Association of America, the Cardinal has jumped up to No. 1 from No. 5 while the Bears dropped from No. 2 to No. 4 as of Feb. 19..

It is a performance which is discouraging for athletes and fans alike, but it does not mean the season is over.

“We gotta be up and ready to race but I think if we are on then we are putting ourselves in a good situation to do well (at Pac-12s),” said Cal assistant coach Dani Korman.

In order for the Bears to win this week, they are going to need to swim with more urgency than they did against Stanford. Outside of senior Abbey Weitzeil and sophomore Isabel Ivey, Cal swimmers failed to win a single other individual event. The Bears’ strong suit is the relays, but even those teams couldn’t muster more than a single victory despite setting season high times in two of those events.

For Cal to win at the Pac-12s they will not only need to set new highs but they also need to hope that Stanford slows down. Multiple races in the Feb. 15 meet against Stanford were decided by less than a second. This means that even the slightest improvement from the Bears or a slight stumble from the Cardinal could lead to a significant difference.

“Just focusing on our details and getting everyone excited to get up and race and be ready to go. It’s more of the detail work. High intensity and coming together as a team,” Korman said.

Cal will have an opportunity to avenge their disastrous defeat at Stanford’s hands, but its result at the Pac-12 championship is not the be-all, end-all.

Since 2006, the Bears have won the Pac-12 Championships four times and three of those seasons resulted in winning the NCAA championship. During that same time frame, the Cardinal has won the Pac-12 six times, and three of those have resulted in NCAA championship wins. Arizona has three Pac-12 championship wins since ‘06 and only one national title.

This goes to show that whatever happens at the 2020 Pac-12 Championships on Feb. 26 may not be a strong predictor of winning the NCAA tournament.

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