An oncoming tidal wave: Bears swim against Stanford

Photo of Cal women's swimming
Vanessa Lim/Senior Staff

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Bear territory is being invaded this weekend by Bay Area rival Stanford, and it is time for the Bears to attempt to fend off the Cardinal for the first time in the 2021-2022 swim season.

In what has come to be known as the “Battle of the Bay,” No. 8 Cal and No. 5 Stanford are facing off in what is the Bears’ last dual meet before the Pac-12 championship. The pressure is on, and the only thing Cal women’s swim and dive must do at this point in the season is execute a win.

“We need to stay true to what it means to be a Cal Bear for us,” said senior Isabel Ivey. “We need to focus on what we need to do and what we are good at.”

Cal is coming in hot with a five-meet winning streak and 83% success rate this season. In terms of conference wins, the Bears have conquered every Pac-12 team thus far, most recently defeating USC and UCLA. For the last face-off with a Pac-12 team before the conference championships, the Bears have home-pool advantage to splash the Cardinal back to their side of the Bay.

In addition to watching a historic rivalry be confronted this weekend, Cal has the special opportunity to honor the teams’ seniors. Elise Garcia, Robin Neumann, Ema Rajic, Maddie Ward, Alicia Wilson and Isabel Ivey will be representing their Bear family for the last time at the Spieker Aquatic Complex, marking the end of a transformative era of Cal women’s swim and dive.

These six seniors have made an indelible imprint on Cal’s swim and dive program. Individually, their successes speak volumes, including Garcia being named the NCAA champion in the 200 free relay, and Rajic’s title as a 2020 Tokyo Olympian. However, when working together, these Bears made history and built up a team that has maintained unmatched spirit, talent and morale.

“Being a senior, the time has flown by,” Ivey said. “I am just so proud of everyone around me and the team and everything they’ve done.”

Nevertheless, their eyes are on the prize and the Bears will not stop until a tidal wave takes the Cardinal back to their side of the Bay.

The swim and dive squad has insane depth and flexibility, but the spotlight will naturally follow a few swimmers who have led the team to profound victories this season. Freshman Leah Polonsky, sophomore Isabelle Stadden, junior Ayla Spitz and Ivey are key swimmers to look out for this weekend.

This foursome carried the Bears in Los Angeles, each winning two races against USC or UCLA.

Specifically, Polonsky secured wins against UCLA in the 200-yard freestyle, battling it out neck and neck before touching the wall .09 seconds faster than her opponent, and the 400 individual medley. Spitz also clinched two wins against UCLA in the 1,000 freestyle and 200 backstroke. Stadden followed along next to her dominating teammate by capturing wins in the 100 backstroke and 200 backstroke against USC. Ivey won the 100 and 200 freestyle against USC, earning the title of the “backbone of the Bears.”

“We are going to have each other’s backs this weekend and support each other and if a race doesn’t go as planned it’s how we quickly recover and adapt from that,” Ivey said.

The focus is on and the momentum is building. Watch Cal dive in with full force into the Spieker Aquatic Complex pool at noon Saturday, marking the beginning of what fans will hope becomes a legendary and momentous meet for the Bears.

Alisa Steel covers women’s swim and dive. Contact her at [email protected].