They came, they swam, they conquered.
The Cal women’s swim and dive team made up for a shortened season in this past weekend’s joint meet against USC and UCLA, setting a slew of pool records and personal bests. This is not beginner’s luck — the Bears are proving that nothing can stop them from going for gold, not even a pandemic.
This past weekend, Cal posted 11 school dual-meet records and 11 pool records. Typically, meets are two hours of racing. In this special joint meet, the Bears raced both USC and UCLA twice. Styled after the Pac-12 championship meet, this arduous weekend opened and closed with the Bears on top.
The blue and gold began the busy weekend against the Trojans on Friday morning. Of the eight swimming events, Cal won seven. Then, on Saturday morning, the Bears dominated across the board again, snagging wins in eight of the nine races. They later went on to defeat the Bruins in another double meet Saturday and Sunday, continuing the trend of breaking school, personal and pool records.
On Saturday afternoon, junior Alicia Wilson broke the pool and dual-meet record in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 1 minute, 53.58 seconds. Additionally, junior Isabel Ivey challenged previous records as she defeated the pool and dual-meet mark of 51.54 in the 100 fly, a record previously held by Olympian Dana Vollmer.
Senior Robin Neumann joined Ivey in breaking records when she set the Cal dual-meet record for the 500 freestyle with a time of 4:40.02 in a race against UCLA. Neumann’s record, which broke Ashley Chandler’s school record from 15 years ago, didn’t last for long; later in the day, sophomore Ayla Spitz broke the record again, beating Neumann’s time by 0.16 seconds.
Neumann also competed in the 200 free and finished with a time of 1:44.01, the fifth-fastest in the nation.
“To come back and race and immediately do so well is awesome,” Neumann said. “The fact that I’m fifth is only encouraging and motivating.”
Junior Ema Rajic competed against Trojan swimmer Kaitlyn Dobler in the 100 breaststroke. Although Rajic came in second to Dobler’s pool record of 58.31, Rajic did well enough to break the school record in the competition for the second time this season with a time of 58.79.
“We had really good breaststrokers from USC and UCLA come up, and it was really exciting to get to race them just because I haven’t raced them in over a year,” Rajic said. “To see where they were at at this point in the season compared to where I was at compared to the rest of the country made the atmosphere competitive.”
After the Sunday morning meet, in which Cal finished off the job against the Trojans, Cal jumped back in the water in the afternoon and pulled ahead immediately against UCLA.
Wilson took advantage of her opportunity in the pool when she swam as the solo Cal representative in the 400 individual medley. Up against three Bruins, Wilson cut the water and cruised to a win. On Sunday, during this strenuous event, Wilson broke the pool record by nearly three seconds despite the struggle it presented.
“Honestly, the 400 IM today was really hard mentally, and it is such a tough event, especially for me,” Wilson said. “It was pretty special to break the record.”
A few other Cal swimmers also broke records this weekend. On Saturday afternoon, sophomore Rachel Klinker set the dual-meet 200 fly record with a time of 1:53.51. On Friday, sophomore Sarah DiMeco’s winning time of 9:44.10 in the 1,000 free seized the fifth ranking in the country and fourth of all time at Cal.
The diving team also had an impressive weekend. Senior diver Briana Thai won the 1-meter springboard with a score of 291.98 against UCLA. Against USC, Thai won the 1-meter competition and placed fourth on platform, scoring 299.25 and 239.18, respectively.
Cal women’s swim and dive associate head coach Dani Korman believes that the team managed to perform so well because its focus and resilience have remained consistent over the course of the pandemic.
“We haven’t backed down even with the unknown of COVID,” Korman said. “We just kept our goals the same, and I think the team just knew once they got the opportunity, they were excited and ready to go.”
The Bears are looking forward to a potential meet against Stanford in two weeks, though those plans are subject to change and cancellation.
If the blue and gold can keep up the momentum this joint double meet unleashed, women’s swim and dive should have no trouble earning victories against Stanford and other Pac-12 rivals this spring.
Alisa Steel covers beach volleyball and women’s swim and dive. Contact her at [email protected].