The stage has been set.
In the grand finale of the regular season, the No. 8 Stanford women’s swimming and diving team will square off against No. 1 California at the Avery Aquatic Center this Saturday. The Golden Bears are coming into the meet with an undefeated dual-meet record while the Cardinal is 8-1, with the sole loss coming against No. 2 Florida.
Despite Cal’s current status as the best team in the nation, Stanford’s lower ranking doesn’t reflect the team’s recent tenacity in defeating higher-ranked opponents. Two weeks ago, the women’s swimmers upset No. 5 Arizona at home, and just a week ago they took down No. 7 USC on the road. What’s even more impressive is that in both of these wins, the Cardinal had already competed in another meet the previous day. The upset-minded Cardinal hopes to pull off one last shocker against the top team in the country and end Cal’s bid for its first undefeated regular season since 2006.
Cal’s lineup certainly looks formidable across the board. Three Golden Bear swimmers already have automatic NCAA qualifying times—a feat that not many college swimmers have accomplished during the regular season.
Leading the way for Cal is junior Caitlin Leverenz, considered to be one of the best swimmers in the nation. At the 2011 NCAA Championships, she placed in the top five in three individual events. She also swam the breaststroke legs of the team’s 200 and 400 medley relays, both of which won the national title. So far this season, Leverenz has already clocked automatic NCAA qualifying times in five individual events.
One of the best matchups in Saturday’s showdown will be between Leverenz and Stanford’s sophomore Maya DiRado. As elite national swimmers, the two stars are alike in many ways. Although DiRado and Leverenz specialize in different strokes, they both own some of the nation’s fastest times. DiRado is currently the fastest swimmer in the 200 backstroke by more than seven-tenths of a second while Leverenz co-owns the fastest time in the 200 breaststroke.
What’s even more interesting is that DiRado and Leverenz overlap in their strengths. As two of the country’s premier individual medley swimmers, DiRado has the nation’s second-fastest time in the 200 individual medley, a full second ahead of fourth-ranked Leverenz. In the longer 400 individual medley event, Leverenz ranks second, just one place ahead of DiRado. Drawing out their similarities even further, DiRado was named the 2011 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year while her slightly older competitor won the same award in 2010.
Another key matchup to watch for will be the sprint-off between Stanford senior Sam Woodward and Cal senior Liv Jensen. The two accomplished veterans have both been critical to their respective teams’ success in dual-meet situations and are expected to be individual national title contenders come March. In comparison to each other, both swimmers are ranked in the top five in the 50 freestyle, with Jensen second and Woodward fifth. But not to be outdone, Woodward has the country’s second-fastest time in the 100 butterfly.
On the diving board, Stanford sophomore Stephanie Phipps will carry the burden against a deep Cal diving squad. At the Cardinal Diving Invitational in mid-January, Phipps outscored senior Molly Hayes, Cal’s top diver, in both the one-meter and three-meter springboard events. Considering that Cal has three divers who already have NCAA regional-qualifying scores, Phipps will likely have to repeat those victories if Stanford hopes to cancel out Cal’s depth.
The showdown between Stanford and Cal will begin at 1 p.m. this Saturday at the Avery Aquatic Center.