Two of the nation’s strongest women’s swimming squads will clash on Saturday in what figures to be a hard-fought battle. No. 2 Stanford (7-1, 4-0 Pac-12) and No. 7 Cal (6-2, 2-2) will once again fight for supremacy of the Bay Area in the final regular-season dual meet of the season.
Coming into last year’s regular season finale, the Golden Bears were ranked number one in the nation and possessed a perfect record of 7-0. On that memorable Saturday afternoon, the Cardinal women pulled off an upset of a Cal team that would eventually go on to become the national champions, showing the nation that even the strongest teams can sometimes underperform in dual meets.
That is exactly why Stanford should prepare to be tested by a talented Cal squad that remains one of the strongest in the nation despite its pedestrian Pac-12 record of 2-2. In order for the Cardinal to finish a second-straight season undefeated in the Pac-12, it needs to hold off a motivated Golden Bears team hoping to finish with a winning conference record.
“We know that they are going to be good, so we’re just going to focus on what we can do, run our races and see what happens,” said senior Andi Murez.
The Cardinal comes into this matchup undefeated in its past five dual meets, highlighted by a huge victory over No. 1 USC two weekends ago. The momentum certainly swings in Stanford’s favor, as the Golden Bears have dropped two of their last four dual meets and seem to be uncharacteristically stumbling down the stretch against tougher Pac-12 competition.
Versatile junior Felicia Lee will help lead the charge for the Cardinal. Lee is the defending national swimmer of the week after a huge set against UCLA and USC in which she won four individual events, was a part of three relay-winning teams and broke a pool record twice in as many days. The Cardinal will look for another strong performance out of Lee to spur it to another victory.
Murez and sophomore Maddy Schaefer, two of the strongest freestyle swimmers in the nation, will also try to help the Cardinal out with another strong performance. Schaefer owns the nation’s third-fastest time in the 50-yard freestyle and the fourth-fastest time in the 100-yard freestyle. Murez, one of the most dependable contributors on the team, owns top-10 times in both the 100-yard and 200-yard freestyle events.
Cal boasts formidable athletes for the butterfly, breaststroke and individual medley events. Olympic gold medalist Rachel Bootsma has not been stellar in her signature event, the backstroke, this season. However, she is one of the nation’s strongest butterfly swimmers and is a threat in multiple strokes.
Senior Caitlin Leverenz of Cal, herself an Olympic bronze medalist, has long since established herself as one of the best individual medley (IM) swimmers in the nation. She owns the nation’s second-fastest time in the 200-yard event and the fourth-fastest time in the 400-yard event. Stanford’s talented crew of IM swimmers will have their work cut out for them against Leverenz.
Cal’s incredible depth also gives them great versatility in the relays. As a result, they own the nation’s top times in both the 200-yard and 400-yard medley relays and also have top-three times nationally in all three freestyle medley events, including the 800-yard event.
While Cal looks formidable on paper, it is a team that has shown weakness at times. Stanford should have a good chance at winning if it swims a strong overall meet and is able to capitalize on those weaknesses.
As the regular season winds down and the team continues its preparation for the upcoming championship meets, it wants to finish the season on a high note and prepare itself both mentally and physically for the challenges that wait ahead. The players and coaches have been preparing all along for their true goal of a championship.
“We just want to have good races all around,” Schaefer said. “Good finishes, good turns, good details, since we’re getting close to championship meets.”
Head coach Greg Meehan is also stressing the importance of the road ahead.
“Anytime that you have a dual meet, especially against your big rival, it adds to the excitement level,” he said. “But it’s also an opportunity for us to fine-tune our details one more time before we head to the Pac-12 and NCAA Championships.”
“We’ve been preparing since September for our NCAA Championships, and that’s always been our focus.”