In the year after four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin chose to sign with Cal, the defending national runners-up Golden Bears looked to be unstoppable heading into the 2013-14 season. But this year, it was the No. 4 Cardinal (10-0, 7-0 Pac-12) that raced through its dual meet schedule in a way that No. 1 Cal (7-2, 5-2 Pac-12) could not, as Stanford capped off a perfect dual-meet season with a sinking of its cross-bay rivals, 167-133, on Saturday morning in front of a packed Avery Aquatic Center on an emotional Senior Day.
“It wasn’t pretty, in a lot of senses,” head coach Greg Meehan told GoStanford.com. “I think both teams are struggling through some fatigue and are still working hard as we gear up towards the end of the season. But regardless, it was great racing.”
Although Franklin paced Cal with easy victories in all three of her individual events, the Cardinal ultimately prevailed with its deeper talent. Five different Cardinal swimmers won individual events on Saturday as Stanford won 10 of the 14 swimming events and split the diving events to earn a hard-fought victory over the nation’s top-ranked team. Only Franklin and sophomore Elizabeth Pelton won individual events for the Bears.
Senior Felicia Lee, who was named the Pac-12 Swimmer of the Month in January for her perfect month — Lee placed first in all 14 events that she entered — won all four events that she was a part of to top off a fantastic senior season. She won every dual-meet event that she competed in — both individual and relay — after the Oct. 3 meet against Washington State.
Although Franklin started the meet on a strong note for Cal by solidly winning both the 1,000-yard and 200-yard freestyle events, the Cardinal earned a close victory in the 200-yard medley relay thanks to a powerful anchor leg from junior Maddy Schaefer. Her split of 21.99 was nearly half a second quicker than that of Cal junior Kaylin Bing, which allowed the Cardinal to grab an exhilarating come-from-behind win.
From there, the Cardinal took over the meet.
Lee held off a surging Pelton in the 100-yard backstroke to win by a margin of two hundredths of a second, junior Katie Olsen and sophomore Sarah Haase contributed a 1-2 finish in the 100-yard breaststroke, senior Maya DiRado sped to victory in the 200-yard butterfly and Schaefer and freshman Lia Neal finished 1-2 in the 50-yard freestyle to put the Cardinal solidly ahead.
Although Franklin and Pelton broke Stanford’s winning streak with wins in the 100-yard freestyle and 200-yard backstroke, respectively, the Cardinal took back full control by winning the last five events to end its dual meet season with a flourish. It was only fitting that three of those events were won by seniors, with Taylor and DiRado winning their final events in their home pool at Avery and Lee claiming another individual victory before closing her home career with a win in the 400-yard freestyle relay.
Senior diver Stephanie Phipps also closed her home career on a strong note with a victory in the 3-meter diving event while placing in second in the 1-meter diving event behind the reigning Pac-12 Diver of the Month, Cal’s Anne Kastler.
Although the Cardinal finished its dual-meet season with an unblemished record, the duals aren’t necessarily a great indicator of success in the more important championship meets due to the differences in format. Different team strengths and weaknesses are highlighted by championship meets, and Cal has traditionally been a much stronger championship meet squad than it has been a dual-meet squad due to its all-around depth and experience.
The Cardinal will see just how good Cal can be firsthand — and attempt to knock off the defending conference champions — at the Pac-12 Championship meets in Federal Way, Wash., from Feb. 26-Mar. 1. As has been the case in each of the last three years, expect the top spot to be fiercely contested between the Cardinal and Golden Bears.
“It has been a great four years with my class and couldn’t have ended up on a better note,” Lee told GoStanford.com, “but we still have more to go.”
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.