At the beginning of the season, the Cal women’s swimming team displayed an incredible amount of potential to defend its national championship title for the third year in a row.
Despite losing eight seniors to start the season, such as multiple-NCAA winner Liv Jensen and Olympic silver medalist Sara Isakovic, Cal revamped its team with a total of eight new freshmen who made up one of the Bears’ best recruiting classes in recent years.
But at the end of the year, the Cal squad ultimately fell to third place in the Pac-12 championship and failed to earn an NCAA three-peat with a second-place finish and a disappointing loss to No. 8 Georgia.
To give a sense of context, the Bears claimed Pac-12 championship victory for the first time last year since taking the Pac-10 title in 2009. They also garnered the NCAA crown last season for the second year in a row.
Don’t get me wrong — the women’s swimming team boasted another high-quality season this year, including wins at the Early Bird Invitational in October, the Arena Invitational in November and seven out of nine individual dual meets.
But as a team, the Bears failed to finish the season the way they wanted. They were the heavy-handed favorites as the defending national champions throughout the year, but they ultimately fell short at the end of the season.
So why did The Daily Californian rank the Bears at No. 3 in its list of the top 10 Cal sports teams?
Looking in between the lines and past the overall results, specifically at their individual performances at the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, we can see a definite trend in top performances by talented Cal underclassmen — indicating a bright future ahead and reminding opponents that the Bears will continue to be a threat on the national leaderboard.
In the Pac-12s, rising sophomore Elizabeth Pelton was named Swimmer of the Meet after setting an American record in the 200 back, taking the title in the 200 IM and contributing to Cal’s win in the 400 relay as the lead off.
Pelton was again named Swimmer of the Meet at the NCAAs after collecting top-five finishes in four relay events and once again breaking the record in the 200-back to take the national title.
Rising sophomore Rachel Bootsma garnered another national NCAA title for the Bears in the 100-back while star senior Caitlin Leverenz notched Cal’s third national title after edging teammate Pelton by half a second in the 200 IM.
Leverenz’s absence next year will certainly create a hole in Cal’s roster of talented veterans.
But with such a strong recruiting freshman class from this past year and with the addition of five-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin, the Bears won’t have anything to worry about for the next few years.
In fact, I’m wholly anticipating Cal’s return to the top in the upcoming seasons.
With the Bears equipped next year with an elite squad laden with raw star power , there’s no doubt they earned that No. 3 spot in our power rankings.