A person’s true character shows not during the high moments, but during the lows. When adversity hits, you get to see what someone is really made of. This is especially true in sports. During the 2016 NBA Finals, LeBron James put the Cleveland Cavaliers on his back and carried them to the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history. Being down three games to one was LeBron’s low. That’s when you saw what LeBron was made of.
That’s where the Bears are right now.
Cal finished as the runner-up in the Pac-12 Championships for the fourth straight season. Stanford led the way with 1,598 points, while the Bears were a distant second with 1,224.5. USC rounded out the top three with a final score of 1,212 points, just shy of second place.
Being closer to the Trojans than the Cardinal in the scoring column should be worrying for Cal, but a more serious concern is the status of senior Abbey Weitzeil, who injured her hand when finishing the 50-yard freestyle event this week. Unsurprisingly, she won that event, but was held out for the remainder of the competitions in order to rest for the more important NCAA Championships. Weitzeil’s time of 21.03 was a Pac-12 record, and she now owns five of the top six times all-time in the 50-yard freestyle.
The Bears showed that despite losing some key seniors last summer, they are still elite in the relays, as they won both the 400-yard medley and 200-yard freestyle relays. It’s the third year in a row that Cal has won the 200-yard freestyle at the Pac-12s. The 2020 relay team consisted of senior Maddie Murphy, senior Keaton Blovad, freshman Eloise Riley and sophomore Isabel Ivey. The Bears also managed to take second in the 400-yard freestyle relay with a time of 3:13.21, only .01 seconds ahead of Stanford.
In addition to winning a relay, Ivey gave Cal its fourth and final Pac-12 title by winning the 100-yard backstroke event with a time of 51.06, less than half a second faster than teammate Blovad.
Many of the Bears had season or even career-best performances throughout the week. Murphy placed fourth in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 22.14, which was a season best time and the highest place finish of her career at the Pac-12s. In the 500-yard freestyle, a trio of freshman, Ayla Spitz, Rachel Klinker and Sarah DiMeco, all got personal best times. Ivey took second place in the 100-yard butterfly and swam a season-high 51.14. Junior Robin Neumann took third place in the 200-yard freestyle for the second year in a row, touching the wall with a season-best time of 1:44.02.
On the diving side, junior Briana Thai led the Bears with a ninth place finish on the 1-meter springboard and sixth place on platforms. This was Thai’s highest placement on platforms ever.
Despite Cal winning four Pac-12 titles and having many instances of season or even career bests, the blue and gold came up way short of first. Their ceiling is yet to be determined and although second place is good for most teams, Cal is not most teams. For the Bears, the expectations are much higher. The goal is a national championship — it’s championship or bust.
This is it. Cal’s back is up against the wall. They are in must win mode as the only meet left is the national championships. The Bears need to find their inner LeBron James if they want to be able to pull off this upset and finally defeat their archrival Stanford on the national stage for the first time since 2015.
The Bears currently have an 11-year streak of top-three finishes, the longest streak in the country. They will look to continue that streak at the NCAA Championships in Athens, Georgia from March 18-21.
Tom Aizenberg covers women’s swim and dive. Contact him at