As planned, Cal Women’s Swimming peaked at the NCAA National Championships. The Golden Bears set 5 new school records on the week’s 18 swimming events en route to a 2nd place team finish (373 points) behind Stanford (593 points). The next place team, Texas A&M, had 299 points. For the 10th consecutive year, the Golden Bears have finished in the top 3. Head Coach Teri McKeever is quite proud of that achievement.
Of course, given their lofty history, the fact that there will merely be one Cal Women’s Swimming and Diving banner for next year’s honoring of national champions is somewhat disappointing. Credits to Stanford for having an incredible meet - buoyed by their staple of superstars in Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, Ella Eastin, etc. Just about every time that the Golden Bears set a new record, Stanford does it also but slightly faster.
In the end, the lone Cal NCAA national title from this meet goes to junior Kathleen Baker in her strongest event - the 200 yard backstroke (Note: the NCAA is the biggest meet that swim in yard pools - so all of the records are typically set in the NCAA national championships; in the international competitions, the equivalent event would be in meters). Baker broke the longest record left in women’s collegiate swimming by rewriting the history book with a time of 1:47.30 (half second better than the record set by former Cal great, Elizabeth Pelton).
Check out the evolution of the top 200 Back time in history. Note that all of them are set by Cal Golden Bears.
An American Record swim in the 200 Backstroke (1:47.30) by Kathleen Baker. A look at the progression on the American Record in this event. pic.twitter.com/6dcrMRnuBk— USA Swimming Stats (@USASwimStats) March 17, 2018
Baker, the reigning Swimmer of the Meet, was kept off the top of the podium in 200 IM and 100 Back. In 200 IM, Baker broke the old NCAA record, problem is that Stanford’s Ella Eastin also accomplished that feat and touched the wall just a fraction of a second faster than Baker by catching up in the last turn. In 100 Back, Baker had to settle for 3rd place behind Stanford’s Ally Howe.
The 200 Back is Baker’s best event because it gives her more time to do what she does best which is the backstroke. Here is Thleen’s post race interview with the press. Find out how she felt about breaking the record of former Cal training partner, Liz Pelton, etc.
Cal also set a bunch of new relay records, even if they are only good enough for 2nd place behind Stanford (who swept all 5 relays in this meet - the 3rd time this feat has been achieved). 400 Free Relay (Bilquist, Weitzil, Baker, McLaughlin), 200 Medley Relay (Baker, Weitzeil, Thomas, Bilquist), and 200 Free (Murphy, Bilquist, McLaughlin, Weitzeil) all have a new school record in the books. Golden Bears set the 2nd best time in school records in the other two relays - 800 Free and 400 Medley relays.
Individually, the two new school records are both set by Kathleen Baker in 200 IM and 200 Back, besting the old NCAA/American records in both.
Golden Bears had a bunch of swimmers making a variety of A-Finals. Other than Baker’s runner-up (200 IM) and 3rd place (100 Back) finishes, Abbey Weitzeil had a 3rd (100 Free) and a 4th (50 Free). Senior Canadian Calympian Noemie Thomas had a 4th in 100 Fly. Katie McLaughlin, Amy Bilquist, freshman Sarah Darcel, and freshman Robin Neumann all made A-Finals.
Looking ahead, Stanford will have graduated Simone Manuel, Ally Howe, and Olympic diver Kassidy Cook. Maybe Katie Ledecky will go pro as well. Certainly, Stanford have a bunch of great young swimmers as well, but the swimming pool will certainly be more leveled if Ledecky and Manuel are both gone. We shall see if the Cal Bears can return to the top of the podium in the team competition next year, although another top 3 finish is all but guaranteed for one of Cal Athletics crown jewel program.