Looking back on Cal women’s swim’s unfinished 2020 season

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Due to the emergence of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, all NCAA sporting events, even noncontact sports such as swim and dive, have been canceled for the remainder of the spring season. Because of this development, the end of the 2019-20 Cal women’s swim season will forever remain a mystery. People will wonder “what if” but will never really know what was in store. Was it a championship season for Cal women’s swim and dive? A fourth straight second-place finish? The Bears’ campaign is one of many unfinished stories for the 2020 college sports season.

Cal had a strong start to its season, taking first place at the Chick-Fil-A Invitational, while also winning dual meets against Washington State and UC San Diego. While a win is a win, questions were raised at the validity of these wins since the competition was subpar as they were both unranked heading into the matchup. Unsurprisingly, the blue and gold won these meets handedly, winning by an average margin of 72 points in the two matchups.

On a chilly December night in freezing Minneapolis, these questions were answered. The Bears won the Minnesota Invitational with 1158.5 points and finished 345 points ahead of second place Michigan. Unlike all their meets prior, this invitational had four teams that finished in the top 16 during the 2019 NCAA championships. This invitational proved that Cal’s dominance was its own doing rather than a result of its schedule.

The Bears would go on to finish the calendar year with an absurd 199-57 victory over San Jose State. The blue and gold would then begin their toughest stretch in Pac-12 play ending the regular season with matches against Arizona, No. 17 Arizona State, No. 8 USC, No. 24 UCLA and No. 1 Stanford.

Cal dealt with the difficult schedule, however, as it would go on to win its next four meets, giving the blue and gold seven straight victories and an undefeated record heading into their final meet of the season against archrival Stanford.

Two undefeated rivals coming to a head made for an intriguing meet. What should have been a close matchup indicating a championship preview became a surprisingly lopsided affair as the Cardinal easily handled the Bears, winning 193-104, their fifth straight victory over Cal.

Despite this heartbreaking loss, the season was not over just yet. The blue and gold were ready to make up for this loss at the Pac-12 conference championships. But the Bears would fall below that standard with a second place finish that was almost more worthy of third in the Pac-12 Championships, as they edged third-place USC by only 12.5 points.

Again, however, the blue and gold would remain motivated, believing this was not the end of their season. They were wrong. On March 12, the NCAA canceled all remaining sporting events, marking the end to what could have been a redemption year for the Bears. Just a month before, a second place finish to Stanford seemed like the worst case scenario — but the true end result was far worse.

This is especially heartbreaking for seniors Keaton Blovad, Alexa Buckley, Aislinn Light, Maddie Murphy, Courtney Mykkanen and Abbey Weitzeil, who have all now made their final appearances for the Bears.

Weitzeil was in the midst of her best season to date, breaking records wherever she went and showing that, somehow, America’s best college swimmer had gotten even better. On Dec. 5 in Minneapolis, Weitzeil broke her own 50-yard freestyle record with a time of 20.90, becoming the first female swimmer to ever get under 21 seconds. Weitzeil was also named one of 10 finalists for the AAU Sullivan Award, given to the nation’s best amateur athlete. If she wins, Weitzeil would be the second Cal swimmer to win the award after Missy Franklin did in 2012.

At the conference championships, Weitzeil injured her arm on the finish of the 50-yard freestyle event, which she won. In doing so, she did not compete in the remainder of the tournament. That would be Weitzeil’s final appearance in what turned out to be an all-time great career as a Bear.

The Bears didn’t complete their redemption arc, nor did they even get to try. Instead they got nothing, not even the opportunity to compete. It was a shocking reality that no one could have predicted when the season started, and it made 2020 a season which will remain forever unfinished.

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