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Golden Medals: Cal Swimming national titles chances

Cal Aquatics should continue the streak of consecutive individual or relay national titles, but how competitive will they be in the team title hunt?

Can arguably the top recruiting class in the country offset the graduation of Ryan Murphy for Cal Men’s Swimming in 2018?
Cal Men’s Swimming Twitter

In case you missed it, I previewed the seasons of Cal Men’s and Women’s Gymnastics, Men’s and Women’s Tennis, and Women’s Water Polo last week. Cal Women’s Gymnastics opened their season with a win over the other Northern California teams, including Stanford, on Monday night.

All 5 of the teams mentioned last week should be be able to make the respective NCAA tournament and be in the hunt for a national championship. This week, we will get to the programs with arguably even higher expectation in Cal swimming (and diving), part of that Cal Aquatics that is the crown jewel of Cal non-revenue sports.

Note, my original plan is to discuss Cal Rugby (and Golf) this week as well, but will push them to next week as I get more info on the Bears competing in the D1A Rugby 15s championship (and its tougher pool of BYU, St. Mary’s, Arkansas State etc.) now that the Varsity Cup competition is done.

Cal Men’s Swimming

Chance to win a team national title: 30%, although the Texas dynasty is likely still the favorite.

Chance to win individual national titles: 95%, not quite 100% only because Ryan Murphy - an automatic backstroke win - has graduated. Better bet for a relay win than an individual win.

With head coach Dave Durden at the top of his game, Cal Men’s Swimming is the best place to be for swimmers aspiring for that Olympics glory. Consequently, Cal got arguably the top class in the country to replace the graduation of superstar, 8x individual NCAA champ and 3x Olympics Gold medalist, Ryan Murphy.

Ryan Hoffer (free/fly/back), Sean Grieshop (IM/free), Bryce Mefford (back/free), and Daniel Carr (back/free/IM) are the new names to note. Previous top prospect in the country, Andrew Seliskar (fly/IM/breast), now a junior, will also look to make that leap to win his first NCAA individual title after several A-Final appearances in 2017. Interestingly, Seliskar may be changing up his program by trading the fly event for breast this year (which was what happened at the UGA Invite). Singapore Olympian Zheng Wen Quah will also have a full year of training with the team for the NCAA this year, after just earning eligibility ahead of the NCAA last year. Of course, the Bears also return last year’s break out freshmen in Michael Jensen and Pawel Sendyk as well as transfer in Matthew Josa in addition to the seasoned senior leadership of Justin Lynch. I am most certain to have missed other NCAA national championship scorers for the Bears - such as Connor Hoppe, Carson Sand, Matt Whittle (a trio of breaststrokers) and Michael Thomas. Nick Norman is the Bears’ best distance swimmer.

There were plenty of optimism from Cal’s winter performance at the UGA invite where they were the top scoring team against some tough competitions. Bears achieved the team win by sweeping all of the relays (a must for the Bears at the NCAA if they want to win the team title). Freshmen Carr and Mefford both have shown promises to replace Ryan Murphy’s backstroke outputs. Hoffer gives the Bears another sprint ace, that’s pivotal to relay successes.

It would not be a complete shock if this group perform better collectively than the last year’s group featuring a Ryan Murphy.

SwimSwam has a nice video preview of the new Cal era sans Murphy.

In short, Cal men’s swimming will be one of the contender at the NCAA (to take place in Minnesota in late March). Bears have also already got the commit of the top recruit of next year in breaststroker Reese Whitley, who is already being pressured by national press as the Tiger Wood (or another Stanford comparison would be Simone Manuel) of swimming. So Ryan Murphy may not be eligible anymore (he’s still around in the pro group at Cal), but Cal men’s swimming does not really need to rebuild given the steady stream of top recruits that are coming to Berkeley.

Cal Women’s Swimming

Chance to win a team national title: 10%, because you have to respect that Stanford squad with Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel - who both decided to keep their amateur statuses

Chance to win individual national titles: 100%, Calympian Kathleen Baker is still in her prime

Although Stanford just ended their team national championship drought in 2017, they are nicely setup to be a dynasty. Stanford women’s head coach Greg Meehan is basically the equivalent of Dave Durden but for the women. Even after Ledecky, Stanford has loaded up on other top ranked recruits both already at The Farm and coming in the future.

Of course, Cal head coach Teri McKeever is also very good. However, her program has lost a bit of luster after the subpar international performances of Missy Franklin, who ended up training with Dave Durden and the men’s team (the same path taken by Natalie Coughlin at the end of her career) ahead of the Rio games, and have recently announced a move to Georgia to both train with their coed group as well as to get her undergraduate degree in psychology (it’s a shame that she won’t get a Cal undergraduate degree).

In the original article on the AP, Franklin has nothing but good thing to say about Durden.

“I can truly say I don’t know if I would still be swimming if it wasn’t for Dave Durden,” she said. “He’s one of those coaches that want the best for me.”

Best of luck to Missy Franklin in finding success inside and outside the pool, but most importance that happiness especially after how her falling short of expectation at Rio had put her in a state of depression.

Back to the current squad, Cal will miss the graduation of Calympian Farida Osman in the relays. Osman, a mainstay for the Bears as the anchor of relays since when Missy Franklin was still swimming NCAA races, will probably be replaced by Calympian Abbey Weitzeil.

Weitzeil has started her sophomore campaign with the Pac-12 Swimmer of the Month honor. She and the Kathleen Baker are the surest bet for the Golden Bears. Baker has taken over from Missy Franklin (who held the position briefly after Natalie Coughlin) as the best female backstroker in the country. Baker, the swimmer of the 2017 NCAA meet, won 3 events in the 100 Back, 200 Back, and the 200 IM. She also broke the record with her 100 Back leadoff swim in the 400 Medley Relay (which Cal DQ’ed as a team but Baker’s record stands).

Also essential locks to score points at the NCAA are Canadian Calympian Noemie Thomas, sophomore Maddie Murphy, along with the last two of that special quartet class (alongside Baker and Weitzeil - who deferred matriculation by an year) in Amy Bilquist and Katie McLaughlin. Chenoa Devine remains the top Cal distance swimmer, which will probably be a weak spot for the team again. Other candidates to step up from just attending the NCAA to score are sophomore Keaton Blovad (100 Back, 200 Back, 200 IM - basically the three events won by Baker) and senior Valerie Hull (who has swam prelim of NCAA winning relays in the past). After missing the NCAA in the past two years, senior Jasmine Mau may surprise with a return to her 2015 form.

Out of the newcomers, Robin Neumann (200 Free) was a Dutch Olympian for the Rio 2016 games. Sarah Darcel from Canada will be a factor in IM. Ali Harrison may be the strongest breaststroker for the Bears now that Spanish Calympian Marina Garcia has graduated.

The NCAA championship will take place in Columbus, Ohio this year in mid March. It should be interesting to see if any Cal Bears really emerged between now and then (or peak at the NCAA as planned). Bears should continue their streak of finishing as a top 3 as a team since the Bears along with Texas A&M are considered the top contenders to Stanford.

However, until Katie Ledecky decides to turn pro (maybe this offseason?) so she’s no longer the automatic win for the 3 distance events as well as some of the relays, Stanford may just be too strong for other teams to catch them.

Cal Diving

Since this is only year 2 of the Derek Starks regime in Cal Diving, I don’t think the expectation is just yet for Cal divers to score points like the Texas men or Stanford women, both team NCAA champs last year benefited from diving. Of course, the brand new diving facility at Legends should make this a reality soon.

On the men’s side, last year saw freshman Connor Callahan qualified for all three diving events at the NCAA. He’s the top candidate to take that leap to make the diving finals and score points.

As for the women, expect junior Phoebe LaMay to make the NCAA again in the two springboard events again. LaMay finished 19th in the 1-meter, which is just 3 spots away from scoring points.

Maybe some of the diving newcomers will join these two. That would be something for the Bears to not only have diving representation at the NCAA but multiple divers.