Cheering parents, students, Cal athletes from various sports and Olympians filled the bleachers at Spieker Aquatics Complex on Saturday afternoon. It was clear that this wasn’t just any meet for the No. 1 Cal men’s swim and dive team (6-0). Not only were the Bears hosting the No. 7 Cardinal (5-1) in their last dual meet of the season, but the meet also celebrated the six Cal seniors whose college swimming careers were nearing an end.
Led by those six seniors, the Bears won the meet in dominant fashion 172-122, with Cal taking the top two spots in most of the events.
“This meet isn’t indicative of what we’re going to do in two weeks or five weeks, but I also think how our guys performed today is reflective of what they have done as a unit leading up to this point,” said Cal head coach Dave Durden. “As we come off of this, we have some senior festivities here in a bit, so we get to celebrate our seniors, celebrate their swims, celebrate their dual meet careers.”
In the first individual event of the day, Cal senior Nick Norman won the 1,000 freestyle and was followed by his teammate, sophomore Trenton Julian, who earned second place. Unsurprisingly, senior Andrew Seliskar won the 200 fly event in which he broke a pool record. He was also a member of the pool-record-breaking 200 freestyle relay team.
Senior Carson Sand performed well, placing first in the 100 breaststroke and swimming the breaststroke leg for the winning 200 medley relay team. Senior Mike Thomas placed second in the 200 butterfly behind Seliskar and snagged another second-place finish in the 200 backstroke behind sophomore teammate Bryce Mefford.
“There’s some little things in there,” Durden said. “Maybe not the event wins, but just how some guys are moving that I thought were really good. I thought our relays were solid. Our distance guys stood up and did a nice job against a really good distance program at Stanford. And I thought our sprint freestylers did a nice job of handling their business in their events.”
Freshman Reece Whitley won the 200 breaststroke, beating out Stanford freshman and U.S. international Daniel Roy. As expected, freshman and member of the 2019 U.S. FINA World Aquatic Championships team Jack LeVant showed up for the Cardinal, winning both the 200 freestyle and the 500 freestyle.
“(The seniors) have done a good job of getting their hands around this team and moving this in the direction that it needs to go,” Durden said. “That means sometimes an arm around a shoulder of another guy; sometimes it means a kick in the pants to another guy.”
All team members seemed to play their parts in Cal’s win over Stanford. Performing well as a team, with everyone stepping up and contributing, is more important than having a few individual talents when it comes to winning NCAAs. The Bears’ depth in their roster and leadership by some of the veteran swimmers have been among their biggest strengths throughout the season.
“They’ve handled everything that they’ve done with a level of maturity and thoughtfulness,” Durden said. “It’s more impressive what they’re doing out of the water, and we’re fortunate enough as fans to just see what they’re doing in the water. That’s only a quarter of what they’re doing for our team.”
It’s clear that the senior class has been one of the biggest pieces of Cal’s consistently strong showings this season. The Bears have performed extremely well against some of the best teams in the country. While things often change in the postseason, Cal has shown its capability as a team to pose a clear threat to all others vying for that national championship.