The pursuit of greatness or heroism, according to cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, can be attributed to the fact that our lives have an expiration date.
More eloquently, Becker states, “The hope and belief is that the things that man creates in society are of lasting worth and meaning, that they outlive or outshine death and decay, that man and his products count.”
Within the world of collegiate and professional sports, every athlete has dreams of being a legend — to have their name mentioned long after they decide to call it quits. The undeniable truth, in athletics just as well as in broader society, is that few are able to achieve such a feat.
Michael Jordan, Steve Young and Derek Jeter are household names. Amar’e Stoudemire and Roman Gabriel are not. History is as prejudiced as they come, choosing to remember winners over those who fail to secure hardware.
Coming into the 2022-23 season, the Cal men’s swim and dive team had a chance to put itself in rarified echelons of collegiate swimming by becoming one of a select few teams to win back-to-back championships.
The road to achieving this feat looked less than ideal at the time, most notably with the loss of key swimmers such as Trenton Julian and the future of Spanish Olympian Hugo González still undecided.
It was clear that if the Bears were going to defend their crown, they would need to rely heavily on their rising sophomores and juniors throughout the course of the season and especially at NCAA championships.
And rise they did at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center in Minneapolis.
Sophomore Gabriel Jett seemed to be everywhere over the weekend, swimming in a plethora of individual events while playing a vital role in relays. He led off the 800 freestyle relay on the first night, helping Cal secure a third-place finish. On the very next night, he finished sixth in the 500 free, gaining the Bears’ first individual points and setting the tone for what was to come.
The “flying Jett” didn’t stop there. He would go on to finish second in the 200 freestyle and third in the 200 butterfly, putting up a whopping 46 individual points. With this NCAA victory, Jett is putting together an impressive resume, having gone two for two at the biggest collegiate swimming event.
Junior Destin Lasco was arguably Cal’s best performer at the NCAAs, winning the 200 backstroke in a time of 1:35.87. Lasco fell just short of breaking the NCAA record of 1:35.73 in this event, which belongs to Cal alum Ryan Murphy. Surprisingly, this was Cal’s only individual victory of the entire meet, highlighting its consistency to place in the top eight in nearly every single event.
Lasco would go on to take second in the 200 IM and third in the 100 backstroke, for a total of 53 individual points.
When asked what separates the Cal program from the rest, Lasco said, “I think it goes back to the culture we create all the way from the pro group down and it just trickles down … and it’s not just the relentless pursuit in the pool, it’s out the pool, how we take care of our recovery, how we handle our school work.”
Other notable performances include sophomore Jack Alexy, who made a huge leap at this meet, placing second in the 100 freestyle ahead of teammate Bjorn Seeliger and breaking the 41-second barrier for the first time in his career.
By becoming back-to-back champions, Cal has secured its spot in the history books. As the lights turn off and the only thing that can be heard is the roar of the water down the gutters, the echoes of “Roll on, you Bears!” will continue to ring long after team members conclude their collegiate careers.
And that is how you become inscribed in immortality.