Cal ventures into water, prepares to face USC this weekend

Photo of Cal Men's Swimming
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Roughly 3.8 billion years ago, in deep undersea alkaline habitats, the first life-forms on Earth developed. It was only 500 million years ago that they left the ocean to colonize land. Later still, the first humans emerged only six million years ago, descended from those brave organisms who dared to venture above the water’s surface. In a similar display of courage, after months spent floundering on land, the Cal men’s swim and dive team is finally returning back to the water — this time for a scored competition.

On Jan. 29-30, Cal will compete against USC at the Spieker Aquatics Complex. While the team participated in two nonscoring meets with Stanford in November, this will be the Bears’ first scored meet since the start of the pandemic last March.The Bears have reason for confidence as they dive into this weekend’s competition. Despite lengthy training breaks and pool closures caused by COVID-19, the blue and gold performed well in the aforementioned fall meets against Stanford.

While these competitions were not scored, the Bears surely swam to impress: On Nov. 14, Cal secured a total of 17 NCAA qualifying times, including a standout swim by Cal junior Reece Whitley. Whitley’s 1:48.53 in the 200 breaststroke was not only a personal best but a school record. Ryan Hoffer, a Cal senior, swam 18.97 in the 50 freestyle, dipping under the 19 second threshold. Other noteworthy performances at Stanford included senior Zach Yeadon’s 4:14.90 in the 500 free, freshman Destin Lasco’s 45.21 in the 100 backstroke and senior Sean Grieshop’s 3:42.69 in the 400 individual medley.

The Bears participated in the Stanford meets solely for the opportunity to get their feet wet. But with USC arriving Saturday, it’s time for Cal to fully plunge in. Following a canceled meet with Arizona earlier this month, the Trojans are likely eager to get back in the pool.

Based on the performances at USC’s intrasquad meet held Jan. 22, the Bears should handedly out-swim the Trojans in several events. In the 200 breaststroke race, Justin Lum came out on top, but his time of 2:03.41 should be no match for Whitley’s sub-1:50 performance. Newcomer Billy Cruz Zuniga won the 50 free against his teammates, posting a 20.67 finish, but against Hoffer’s sub-19-second potential, a camera finish should likely not be necessary. And if Grieshop can keep his pace in the 400 individual medley, he should win out over USC’s top performer, junior Jackson Odgers, who swam a 4:06.87.

Due to Pac-12 conference protocols and local public health ordinances, no fans will be permitted at the meet. The Spieker bleaches may remain empty, but Cal fans can still follow the action virtually on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

As humans have colonized the Earth and built entire civilizations on land, it seems hard to believe that the building blocks of our DNA were actually forged deep under the sea. But as the Bears and Trojans show their prowess in the pool this weekend, our evolutionary roots might become easier to comprehend. Clearly, some humans still find themselves at home in the water.

Sarah Siegel covers men’s swim and dive and is a deputy blog editor. Contact her at [email protected].