After dominating the past two swim meets, the Bears finally found a team that matches their competitive edge. This past weekend, No. 6 Cal raced against No 1. Virginia in a meet indicative of the competition to come later this season.
On Friday night, the Bears entered their first dual meet against Virginia, ready to see how far their early-season training could take them. Cal knew that Virginia presented a challenge, but senior Ema Rajic took this pressure and turned it into positivity.
“The team knows we have a very big fight in front of us. We are excited to lay it all on the line,” Rajic said.
For the first time since January 2020, the Bears were supported by a live, cheering crowd. This environment put pressure on the team, but by no means did Cal underperform for its fans.
“I want to show my family what I have been working towards for the past couple months. We have external pressure from families to turn on the gas. We just have to get up and race,” Rajic said.
With a combination of excitement and nerves, the Bears dove into the pool at the Spieker Aquatic Center determined to touch the wall first.
The meet commenced with a Cavalier victory, clocking a new pool record of 1:34.65 in the 200 medley race. Virginia’s Gretchen Walsh dominated in the 200 medley relay, setting another pool record of 51.15 in the 100 backstroke. However, the blue and gold bounced back.
Like a school of fish, senior Isabel Ivey, junior Ayla Spitz and senior Robin Neumann touched the wall back-to-back, sweeping the 200-yard freestyle and reinstating the Bears’ prowe. Ivey conquered the race with a time of 1:45.27, taking the first victory for the Bears on Friday.
Just as important as finishing first, the Bears took it upon themselves to race their hardest and aim for second and third place as well.
“We are taking every single race one at a time. We want to come first, but also, who can get their hand to the wall second, third and fourth,” said assistant head coach Dani Korman.
In the 100 breaststroke and 200 butterfly, Cal swimmers took second, third and fourth place. These close races dictated the 70-61 score, with Cal trailing Virginia by only 9 points after the first break.
In the 500 freestyle, Spitz went head-to-head against Olympian Emma Weyant, conquering the 2020 Olympic swimmer with a time of 4:46.83. In this individual win, Spitz sparked a domino effect that led senior Alicia Wilson to dominate the 200 individual medley.
The dual meet’s final score was 141-121, with the Bears trailing only 20 points behind the Cavaliers.
Though the Bears tallied their first loss of the year, the meet provided both valuable learning experience and a glimpse into the season’s future.
Cal and Virginia will inevitably meet again in the NCAA Championships. But until then, the Bears will continue to practice and compete in meets to further their swimming skills and talent.
Cal looks forward to Nov. 5 in the first Pac-12 dual meet of the season against Utah. This meet will put Cal to the test to see if it still has what it takes to be the Pac-12’s leading team.
Alisa Steel covers women’s swim and dive. Contact her at [email protected].