Continuing trends: Cal hopes to secure NCAA Championships crown

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The Bears will need one more seat on their flight to Greensboro, North Carolina, as senior Briana Thai qualified for three events at the NCAA Championships following an impressive performance at the Zone E Championships in Flagstaff, Arizona, this week.

Thai, who expressed her excitement to do well at ‘Zones’ after a stellar performance at the Pac-12 championships meet will fulfill her wish and represent Cal at the biggest meet of the year. At the Zone E Championships, Thai placed sixth on the platform, 10th on the 1-meter springboard and ninth on the 3-meter board, earning her enough points to qualify for the NCAA Championships.

This will be the first time Thai will be going to the NCAA Championships, but not the first time she has qualified. Last year, the NCAA canceled the meet due to the pandemic, dashing the hopes of Thai and her teammates who had also qualified in 2020.

Making her first trip to the NCAA Championships as a senior, Thai is certainly looking to put her best foot forward. She placed third in the 1-meter dive at the Pac-12 championships meet, taking the podium and her place as the highest point scorer among the Bears’ divers since 2014. Thai will compete alongside a dozen of her aquatic peers, all of whom are swimmers, in Greensboro, North Carolina, between March 17 and 20.

Switching over to the swimmers, Cal is coming off of a monstrous performance at the Pac-12 Championships and will hope to replicate that glory next week at NCAA Championships. After breaking Stanford’s four-year reign as conference champions, the Bears will hope lightning strikes twice; they’ll seek to disrupt the Cardinal’s three-year streak of NCAA Championship wins. In each of those three years, Cal has served as the runner up, and the blue and gold will look to reclaim the throne, a throne which they have not held since 2015.

Teri McKeever has been the Bears’ head coach since 1992 and has collected four NCAA Team Championship titles along with five Pac-12 Team Championship wins. This year, McKeever and her team hope to make those numbers even and claim NCAA Championship No. 5.

“She has everything in mind,” said freshman Isabelle Stadden. “You’re trying to do your best everyday because you’re under such respected authority.”

Stadden is one of many swimmers who has performed tremendously throughout the year, despite battling adversity caused by COVID-19. Juniors Alicia Wilson, who won the 200 Individual Medley event at the conference championships with a comfortable two second lead, and Isabel Ivey, who was named Swimmer of the Meet at that same meet after securing wins in the 100 butterfly, 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke, will be integral to Cal’s success. Additionally, the blue and gold swept the competition in the relay department, going 5-for-5 in relay events at the Pac-12 Championships.

All five of Cal’s relay groupings will compete in Greensboro, North Carolina, and if the Bears’ previous relay performance speaks to anything, those groups could turn the tide of the meet. For now, however, Cal is focused solely on answering one question: Can lightning strike twice?

Elliott Carr covers women’s swim and dive. Contact him at [email protected].