The No. 5 Bears melted away the icy lakes of Minnesota and made history with record-breaking times at the Minnesota Invite. From Dec. 1 to 4, the Bears made a name for themselves and proved their swimming prowess on a national stage.
The Minnesota Invite showcased some of the nation’s most competitive teams. Facing off against three top-25 teams in No. 2 Texas, No. 4 Michigan and No. 17 Wisconsin, along with Harvard, Minnesota and Arizona, Cal knew the tides of this meet were subject to difficulty.
With only two races on the first day in Minnesota, the Bears knew their chances to prove their skills were limited. It was evident that Cal took its competitive edge to a new level and raced for the blue and gold with passion.
The Bears dove headfirst into the 200-yard medley, starting off the meet with groundbreaking times. With three swimmers placing in the top-seven spots of the race, the Cal foursome — senior Ema Rajic, sophomore Isabelle Stadden, senior Isabel Ivey and senior Elise Garcia — placed third with a time of 1:34.93 and edged out Cal records with the sixth-fastest time in school history. With the fifth-fastest time in the nation this season, the blue and gold peaked with adrenaline and held their confidence for the remainder of the meet.
The Bears ended day one of competition the same way they started — making waves in national times and ranks. In the 800 free relay, junior Ayla Spitz, senior Alicia Wilson, senior Robin Neumann and Ivey tapped the wall in 6:59.71, the third-fastest time in the nation this season.
Day one of the meet concluded with impressive times and ranks posted for the Bears. Ready for day two, the Bears presented their hidden gem: Ivey.
In the 200 individual medley, Ivey had a nearly 1.5-second lead on her competition, finishing the race in 1:53.90 and securing her first-place rank. Finishing just .03 seconds off of her 2019 NCAA championship personal best and holding the third-best time in the nation, Ivey proved all the rumors of her talent and speed true.
Ivey led her team in finishing like a school of fish behind her, with three of her teammates following her path and placing in the top-10 spots of the race. The 200 IM jump-started another successful day of competition, as Spitz and junior Mia Motekaitis placed back to back in the 500 freestyle. Texas swimmer Evie Pfeifer secured her win, touching the wall nearly a second faster than Spitz. Nevertheless, Cal placed in spots two and three in the 500 freestyle. Cal sophomore Emily Gantriis and Garcia, meanwhile, placed in the top-five for the 50 freestyle.
Day three started off with the Bears’ sustained enthusiasm and stamina, highlighted by the success of Wilson in the 400 IM and Ivey in the 200 freestyle.
Wilson tapped the wall in just 4:06.43, claiming her victory in the 400 IM for the second time after also emerging victorious in 2019 at the Minnesota Invite. Wilson finished with the eighth-fastest time in the nation. As Wilson came in, her teammates followed. Notably, freshman Lea Polonsky took fourth place in the race, breaking her personal record at 4:07.93 and putting up the seventh-fastest time in Cal history.
Ivey conquered the 200 freestyle in 1:43.13, leading the race from the moment she dove in. Recovering No. 2 position in the country for the 200 freestyle, Ivey outdid herself on back-to-back days. Not to mention, she led her teammates in the finish once again, with Spitz placing third, Motekaitis placing fourth and Neumann securing seventh place.
Stadden had a successful day three as well, as she had the third fastest race of her career and placed sixth nationally. Similarly, in the 200 freestyle relay, Ivey, Gantriis, Garcia and junior Emma Davidson captured second place in 1:28.10.
The victories of day three brought the Bears into day four ready to leave all of their effort in the pool. Stadden, from Minnesota herself, showed her home state what she was made of, placing first in the 200 backstroke. The Pac-12 champion impressed with the third-fastest time in the nation, racing to the finish line in just 1:50.02.
In the 100 freestyle, Ivey placed second with 47.57, and secured fourth place in the country. Garcia took fourth place in the race, with a personal best of 48.59, followed by Gantriis in seventh place and Davidson in eighth, performing a personal best in the morning qualification race.
In the last race of the meet, a team of Gantriis, Garcia, Ivey and freshman Ella Mazurek placed second in the 400 freestyle relay. With a time of 3:12.36, the Bears completed the Minnesota Invite, the largest meet of the season thus far.
After maintaining four NCAA A-qualifying times and taking home the gold, the Bears return to Berkeley with excitement and a reigning confidence.
The Bears will be back in action Dec. 18 when they host UC San Diego at Spieker Aquatics Complex.
Alisa Steel covers women’s swim and dive. Contact her at [email protected].