Cal places second at NCAA Championships in only loss of season

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27 points can mean a lot of things. Four touchdowns and a missed extra point, or the cumulation of shots made by a budding basketball star. It can be as insignificant as an NFL team’s score in a meaningless preseason game, or the mark of a career-defining moment. As Cal men’s swim and dive found out, sometimes, 27 points can mean everything.

The team placed second at the NCAA men’s swimming and diving championships held in Greensboro, North Carolina, this past weekend, marking the 11th consecutive season the Bears have secured a top-two finish at the national level. That said, only four of those seasons have ended with Cal being crowned as NCAA champions.

As the defending champion, the team had hoped to increase its hardware count this year. However, the Bears had to settle for less. The blue and gold finished Saturday with 568 points, the most ever scored by a second place team, which was just 27 points shy of Texas’ winning score of 595 points. It is worth noting that while all of Cal’s points came from swimming events, Texas’ score was supplemented by the 83 points earned by its divers.

This past weekend’s victory marks Texas’ fifth championship in the past six years. Under head coach Eddie Reese, the Longhorns have earned a top-ten finish in the NCAA men’s swimming and diving championships in each of the past 41 seasons.

Saturday’s victory marks Reese’s 15th national title, tying Dan Gable’s record for the seventh-most championships held by any head coach in NCAA history. Reese has now won a NCAA championship in five different decades, all with the Longhorns.

The first race Wednesday night set the pace for the rest of the meet. The Longhorns took home the championship in the 800-yard freestyle relay, though the Bears’ second place finish of 6:08.68 was always within striking distance, at just 1.43 seconds slower.

The blue and gold fared better in the next relay as Bjorn Seeliger, Ryan Hoffer, Daniel Carr and Nicholas Biondi posted a time of 1:14.36 in the 200-yard freestyle relay Thursday, edging out runner-up Florida for first place.

That same day, Hugo Gonzalez and Destin Lasco went second and third in the 200-yard individual medley, and Shaine Casas’ first place performance of 1:39.53 earned Texas A&M its first NCAA championship in its program’s history. Casas then won a second NCAA championship in the 100-yard backstroke and a third in the 200-yard backstroke.

Despite the Bears’ spectacular performance Thursday, the Longhorns were never phased. Texas won the 400-yard medley relay and placed first and second in the one-meter diving finals behind senior Jordan Windle’s championship score of 435.6.

Before the final day, Cal sat firmly in second place with 372 points, trailing Texas by 42. The team needed a monster performance to have a shot at the national title, and everyone showed up. Lasco, Bryce Mefford and Carr went second, third and fourth in the 200-yard backstroke, respectively; Lasco’s 1:35.99 is the third fastest time in event history, behind only Ryan Murphy and first place Casas.

Hoffer continued his dominant performance with a win in the 100-yard freestyle, adding to his individual championships in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly. Hoffer is only the third Bear to record three individual championships in a single NCAA meet. The blue and gold closed out the championships as Seeliger, Hoffer, Lasco and González secured a win in the 400-yard freestyle relay, the final event of the meet.

The Bears left North Carolina on a high note. They were 27 points short of a national championship, but they ended up a plethora of new experiences and records richer.

Cynthia Ge covers men’s swim and dive. Contact her at [email protected]