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Race against time: Cal men’s swimming to open conference play against Utah

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Cal women's gymnastics beat reporter

OCTOBER 11, 2022

The nation’s most popular sports are built on head-to-head competition. In football, basketball, baseball and soccer, the game is not just a measure of an athlete’s individual prowess but rather how well they react to the skills of their opponents. The thrill of watching different teams face off and respond to different forms of offense and defense is unmatched.

When a game is clearly decided before it starts, however, the thrill dims a little — especially if you’re rooting for the “wrong” side, as Cal fans might know all too well. There’s a reason last-minute plays and buzzer-beaters constitute the greatest sports moments, and not blowouts with half-empty stands by the fourth quarter.

However, in sports such as swimming, it’s slightly different. Each meet holds just as much weight because a team is competing against not only another program but also itself. Swimmers are always seeking new personal bests, not to mention pool, school, conference and national records.

So when the Cal men’s swimming team opens its Pac-12 season at home against Utah on Wednesday, fans have all the reason to tune in, despite the results seemingly already set in stone.

Since 2012, the Bears have faced the Utes five times, defeating them by at least 69 points in each matchup. Having won the national championship and its fifth straight Pac-12 title last season, Cal enters the meet heavily favored. And now in possession of its championship rings, the team will look to assert its spot at the top as it pursues another set of titles.

The meet should feature the season debuts of several major contributors to last year’s campaign. Junior Bjorn Seeliger and graduate students Hugo Gonzalez and Reece Whitley, among others, did not compete in the Bears’ season-opening King of the Pool meet at Cal Poly, so Wednesday will allow fans to see how Cal’s core rides the wave of last season’s momentum.

Seeliger, Gonzalez and Whitley together hold three Olympic appearances, 24 Pac-12 titles, six NCAA championship wins and 42 All-American honors. In their final collegiate season, Whitley and Gonzalez will look to deepen their marks on the program.

Adding to Cal’s stock, three members of the team were recently named to the U.S. national team: freshman Matthew Chai, sophomore Gabriel Jett and junior Destin Lasco. Chai and Jett picked up their first selections, while Lasco earned his second.

The 2021 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Lasco was crowned the King of the Pool at Cal Poly in September, marking a strong start to the season for the six-time All-American.

Despite the Bears’ dominance in the pool, those in the stands should look beyond the blue and gold lanes. Notable swimmers for the Utes include junior Marko Kovacic, who won the 200 freestyle when the two teams met last year, narrowly edging out Cal’s Robin Hanson. He also took home fourth in the 100 freestyle and helped the Utes to second in the 400 freestyle relay with a time of 3:02.14.

Utah junior Dylan Becker and senior Finn O’Haimhirgin are also expected to make a splash. Becker won the 500 freestyle when the Bears and Utes faced off last season, and O’Haimhirgin took second in the 100 freestyle ahead of Seeliger and third in the 50 freestyle. The senior was also part of the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relay teams, both of which placed second.

Given the predictability of the meet, it could be fair to presume neither the Bears nor the Utes will be too preoccupied with opponent lanes. Because in a league where the collective enemy is the clock, both sides of the pool will be looking to beat old times and turn the tide against their own records.

The Cal faithful can watch the blue and gold face Utah at Spieker Aquatics Complex on Wednesday at 1 p.m.

Jocelyn Huang covers men's swim and dive. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter @jocelynxhuang.

OCTOBER 11, 2022