Imagine a beautiful Southern California afternoon, the sun painting beauty marks on your back and the concrete burning the soles of your feet. Imagine sweating in the heat, driven to exhaustion after hours of competition. Imagine striving for success with only half your team present.
This is what Cal men’s swim and dive aims to do Friday, Feb. 4 as the team takes on both USC and UCSD in two separate but important invitationals. Half the team will travel to Uytengsu Aquatics Center in Los Angeles in hopes of besting the Trojans on their home turf, while the other half will go to San Diego to take on the Tritons at Canyonview Aquatic Center. The following Saturday, the Bears will compete in the Triton Invitational hosted by UCSD.
Though both hosts are unranked nationally, they remain a viable threat to the championship-seeking Bears. This is the first meeting between Cal and either team this season, but USC and UCSD have competed against each other earlier this year in Los Angeles, with the Trojans sweeping 27 out of 28 events and scoring 195.5 to the Tritons’ 65.5. Despite the seemingly fear-inducing performance by USC, when comparing the numbers, Cal still has the edge. In looking at both teams’ performances in the 200- and 100-yard freestyle, the Trojans were consistently a couple seconds slower than the Bears; the margin decreases to a fraction of a second for certain events such as the 100-yard breaststroke, but even then, Cal posted faster times.
This Friday’s invitational against USC will be the Bears’ fourth Pac-12 meeting this season, and the Trojans’ third. Both teams are undefeated within and outside of the conference with a pristine 4-0 record, thus raising the stakes and further emphasizing both teams’ need to win. UCSD’s only loss this season was against the Trojans, which seems like a momentary lapse in judgment, though the large margin of loss suggests intrinsic work needs to be done by the team.
Given the precedent set by head coach David Durden and this program over the past decade, success looks imminent for the Bears on both fronts. Just last month, the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association named Cal’s swim and dive program a Scholar All-America Team for the fall 2021 semester, marking the eighth time the Bears have been recognized as such in the past nine semesters.
Cal also added former Auburn head coach David Marsh to its arsenal of coaching staff, supplementing the team’s already impressive resume with a dozen more NCAA championships. Much like his players and staff, Marsh exhibits talent that is unparalleled in the greater Pac-12 sphere. During his tenure at Auburn, Marsh won 17 SEC titles between the men and women’s programs, and last year, he was an International Swimming Hall of Fame inductee. Marsh has much experience with the international stage, acting as head coach for the U.S. Olympic women’s team in 2016, assisting in the U.S. Olympic men’s team in 1996, 2000 and 2012, culminating in about 60 athletes who have studied under his wing and thrived.
This comes after assistant coach Chase Kreitler temporarily stepped away while on paternity leave, allowing Marsh to aid the team for the rest of the season in his stead.
The past week has been momentous for the Bears, and this week will be momentous as well. Imagine adding an internally renowned coach to your program. Imagine looking for two road wins with your team at half-strength. Imagine the pressure. Imagine the need. This is Cal men’s swim and dive, and this is how it wins despite it all.