The Bears are the team to beat.
Building off the momentum from its Feb. 19 win over Stanford, Cal men’s swim and dive will head to the University of Houston’s Campus Recreation and Wellness Center Natatorium for the 2021 Pac-12 championships. Spread over four days beginning Sunday, the championships represent an opportunity for the Bears to build upon their already dominant season and bring home some hardware. History is in their favor — Cal has won the past three Pac-12 championships. This streak, however, is a meager run compared to Stanford’s 30-year dynasty from 1982 to 2012. Before last season, the blue and gold had never won more than two championships in a row; they maintained two-win streaks from 2013 to 2014 and from 1980 to 1981. In a season already defined by the unexpected and unprecedented, Cal seems intent on making more history.
The Bears appear poised to win once again, and the College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association of America, or CSCAA, suggests they have a good chance. Regarded as the nation’s second-best Division I team in CSCAA’s preseason rankings, Cal dropped to third in December and January before climbing back to its coveted position at second. Now it trails only Texas’ 325 points with 312 points of its own. Of the teams the blue and gold will face this week, only Stanford and Arizona are ranked, at 14th and 24th, respectively. Both teams fell short of their expectations this season: In its preseason rankings, the CSCAA placed Stanford at 11th and Arizona at 16th. Arizona State was projected to end up in 12th before the season but has been absent from the standings since November. Cal has not competed against Utah, Arizona or Arizona State this season.
Instrumental in the Bears’ success is senior Trenton Julian, who had a monumental performance in the meet against Stanford. Julian will look to secure a win in the 500-yard freestyle, an event he lost to Stanford’s Grant Shoults by 0.32 seconds in last year’s championship. Though Julian’s 4:14.08 in the event set a pool record at Spieker Aquatics Complex last week, he fell short of the 4:12.77 he swam in last year’s championship.
Fans of the sport should also pay attention to the 200-yard freestyle battle between Julian and USC’s Alexei Sancov. A junior from Moldova, Sancov swam in the 2016 Olympics at just 16 years old. In the 2019 NCAA championships his freshman year, he helped USC place 14th in the 200-yard free relay. Julian and Sancov have gone head-to-head once this season, with Sancov’s time of 1:33.79 narrowly edging Julian’s 1:33.91. Sancov’s personal best for the 200-yard freestyle is 1:32.80, an intimidating 0.73 seconds faster than the pool record Julian set Feb. 19.
USC sophomore Harry Homans also appears to be a formidable opponent. When the Trojans and Bears clashed earlier this season, Homans’ 400-yard individual medley time of 3:51.12 was almost two seconds faster than second-place finisher Chris Jhong, who swam a 3:53.37 for Cal. Homans also dominated the 400-yard IM and 200-yard backstroke in USC’s meet against Utah. The second-fastest swimmer in both events finished about four seconds after he did.
Not shying away from challenges, however, Cal men’s swim and dive looks forward to racing against its division rivals in the Pac-12 championships starting this weekend. The Bears more than proved their dominance in convincing wins against USC and Stanford earlier this season. Now they look to ride that momentum to postseason victory.
Cynthia Ge covers men’s swim and dive. Contact her at [email protected]