Cardinal reclaim throne, down Bears to win Pac-12 championships

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Vanessa Lim/Senior Staff

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Lightning never strikes twice.

After ending Stanford’s four-year reign as Pac-12 conference champions in 2021, Cal women’s swim and dive was hoping to repeat last year’s efforts at the 2022 Pac-12 championships in Federal Way, Washington. The Cardinal, however, did not let history repeat itself, as it finished with 1671.5o points, with the Bears a distant second at 1400.50 points. More surprisingly, Cal found itself consistently fighting for second place throughout the meet, as USC finished just 27 points behind with 1373.50 points.

On the first night of the competition, the Bears were off to a strong start, finishing third in the 200-yard medley relay and second in the 800-yard freestyle relay. Even so, Cal quickly fell a step behind its Bay Area rival, who took first in both races and won the latter race by nearly nine seconds. For comparison, the gap separating second and fifth place in this race was just shy of eight seconds.

The second night of competition was once again a solid outing for the Bears, as junior Ayla Spitz led with a third-place finish in the 500-yard frees//tyle with a time of 4:40.89. Senior Isabel Ivey’s time of 1:53.54 in the 200-yard IM placed her second, and freshman Leah Polonsky set a new personal best of 1:55.10 to place fourth.

Both Ivey and Polonsky proved to be bright spots for Cal during this meet, as Ivey went on to win the 200-yard freestyle and earn third in the 100-yard free, while Polonsky finished second in the 400-yard IM.

Other notable performances for Cal included sophomore Isabelle Stadden, who placed second in the 100-yard backstroke and defended her title in the 200-yard backstroke with a personal best of 1:49.51. Junior Rachel Klinker set a season-best time of 1:53.30 in the 200-yard butterfly, which placed her second behind Stanford’s Regan Smith.

Perhaps the biggest difference separating last year’s results to this year’s was the presence of Stanford’s new freshman class, namely Torri Huske and Smith. At ages 19 and 20, respectively, both have already made a name for themselves on the international stage.

Huske is the 100-meter butterfly American record-holder, while Smith holds current and former world records in the 200 and 100-meter backstroke. At this meet, Huske dominated after placing first in the 100-yard butterfly, 100-yard freestyle and 200-yard IM.

Smith took gold in the 100-yard backstroke and 200-yard butterfly while taking silver in the 100-butterfly behind Huske, who was named the 2022 Pac-12 championship Swimmer of the Meet. Comparatively, when Cal took home the 2021 Pac-12 championship title, it was Ivey who won three individual events and Stadden who took gold in 200-yard backstroke and silver in the 100-yard backstroke.

Remarkably, there were no Cal divers present at the 2022 Pac-12 diving championships hosted in Tuscon, Arizona.

While earning a second-place finish in a conference as competitive as the Pac-12 is certainly not something to look down upon, Cal had its sights on defending its crown as Pac-12 champions. Losing that title to its fiercest rival only adds insult to injury.

The Bears had many great performances that led to podium finishes and personal-best times, but beating this star-studded Stanford roster requires more than just great performances — it demands near perfection. Whether or not Cal can reach this standard of swimming remains to be seen with only one meet left: the 2022 NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships in Atlanta, Georgia, from March 16-19.

Ivan Wu covers women’s swim and dive. Contact him at [email protected].