In a sports world filled with pandemic-related adversity, the Cal women’s swim and dive team has proven itself to be up to the challenge and then some, boasting an impressive 3-0 record heading into the Pac-12 championships. Over the next few days, every swimmer on the team has the same intention: topple some trees and break Stanford’s chance at completing a five-year conference-winning streak.
The 2021 Pac-12 championship meet will span four days beginning Wednesday. Swimming will compete in Houston, and diving will take the stage at the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center in Tucson, Arizona. For the Bears and their fans, success at this meet seems to be within grasp, with Cal defeating USC, UCLA and reigning Pac-12 champion Stanford quite handily amid an abbreviated season due to COVID-19.
While the blue and gold only faced three of the nine other teams in the division that will partake in this upcoming meet, Arizona topping the competition in 2008 marks the last time a team other than Cal, USC or Stanford has been crowned champion. Barring a significant performance by an underdog team, if the Bears’ pattern of dominance this season continues, the Pac-12 championship could very likely be returning to Berkeley.
One may expect to see some repeats of strong performances from earlier this season at the Pac-12 championships. Cal junior Isabel Ivey, who has been named Pac-12 Swimmer of the Week twice this season, holds the No. 2 spot among the NCAA rankings for the 100 free after posting an eye-popping 47.24 finish. Freshman Isabelle Stadden boasts a time of 1:49.77 in the 200 backstroke, holding the best time in the Pac-12 by more than four seconds, with teammate Alicia Wilson coming in second.
Despite what the Bears have accomplished throughout the season, one shouldn’t ever count out the reigning champions. Stanford will most definitely be swimming its hardest throughout the meet, so Cal must hold strong in the areas it knows it can score points, in addition to fighting for ground in events in which different schools seemingly possess an edge. One event that promises a photo finish is the 200 freestyle, as Cal senior Robin Neumann holds on to a slim lead with a time of 1:44.01. Hot on her trail — in fact, just 0.6 seconds behind — is Stanford senior Brooke Forde, who comes in at 1:44:6. Any swimmer will tell you tenths of a second are not insignificant, but these two rivals competing for the top prize will surely be something to see.
The Bears have not had the bragging rights of being Pac-12 champions since 2015, and while in sports there are never sure things, Cal’s dominant performance over Stanford, who has won the conference every year since 2017, as well as wins against elite programs in USC and UCLA, means the blue and gold may have something special brewing. It appears that this season, the odds may be in Cal’s favor to chop down those tall trees, which have been at the top for far too long, and to finally bring the trophy home.
Elliott Carr covers women’s swim and dive. Contact him at [email protected].