The Cal women’s swim team has so many superstars that it should crush No. 21 Wisconsin on Friday, but the coaches won’t let themselves or the swimmers think that way.
Cal, newly ranked No. 1, is coming off a huge victory against No. 2 Florida. Wisconsin is coming off losses to No. 6 Georgia and No. 12 Minnesota but has an exceptional freestyle sprinter in junior Ivy Martin — she finished sixth last year at the NCAAs in the 50-yard freestyle — and Wisconsin has a number of very good freestyle relay teams.
Assistant coach Kristen Cunnane said Martin will give the Bears an excellent opportunity to see the kind of swimmers the team will face at the NCAAs. Cunnane added that she thinks the freestyle is the most important of the four college strokes because it has the most events at the NCAA finals. The chance to swim against a strong freestyle team such as Wisconsin will give the Bears a chance to see what they need to do better as they continue into the season.
Cunnane also said that despite the big win over Florida, the team isn’t taking too much away from it, instead looking at where each swimmer can improve. She said that despite being a higher-ranked team, the Bears go into every meet the same way.
“I think we always try to respect our opponent and respect the sport, so we always want to swim our best,” Cunnane said.
When asked whether she and head coach Teri McKeever would use this weekend’s meet to play around with putting swimmers in events that aren’t necessarily their fortes, Cunnane gave an adamant no.
“We definitely think it’s respectful to show the other team our best swimmers and our best times,” Cunnane said.
Cunnane noted that this meet will be the first dual meet of the year at which the men’s swim team competes alongside the women’s swim team. The women go first in an event, and the men will follow before the event changes. She said the team “very much enjoys” racing against the men’s team and that it brings a very different kind of energy.
“(The Cal men’s team) has some of the best swimmers in the world,” Cunnane said, “so it gives us the chance to watch and learn — in particular, watching how they turn and how they start.”
Freshman Farida Osman, who swam for Egypt in the 50-meter freestyle at the 2012 Summer Olympics and was world champion in the 50-meter butterfly at the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships, echoed her coach’s sentiments, saying that it will be fun to compete with the men, whom they practice alongside.
“I think we’re all going to be more engaged because we’re a bigger team,” Osman said.
She said the team has been preparing for this meet much as it would any other. Osman said that, just as before any race, she’ll use the night before to eat spaghetti with white sauce — tomato sauce is OK but not as good — and get a good night’s sleep. The morning of the race, she said, she needs a big cup of coffee to help wake her up and will listen to some Rihanna to get her pumped up.
Osman, who said she prefers butterfly to freestyle because it’s “more challenging,” has been working on her turns, which she said she realized she needed to improve after the Florida meet. The pool at Cal is smaller than the pool where she trained in Egypt, so the turns matter now more than ever.