While the lack of diving depth meant that the California Golden Bears women’s swimming and diving could only finish 2nd at the 2019 Pac-12 Championships this past week, the meet turned out as optimally as possible for the Cal Bears. Head coach Teri McKeever’s squad brought home 9 Pac-12 titles (out of 21 events), including all 5 relays.
Cal junior (2016 Rio Calympian) Abby Weitzeil won 3 individual events (sweeping the sprint events of 50 Free, 100 Free, and added in a 200 Free win) in addition to swims in 4 of the 5 relay wins. Weitzeil was one of three 3-event winners at this meet along side Stanford’s Ella Eastin (a benefactor of Kathleen Baker turning pro) and USC’s Louise Hansson. Cal senior Amy Bilquist, who also swam in 4 of the 5 relay wins, picked up an individual Pac-12 title in the 100 Back as well.
Bears goes 5 for 5 in relays
200 Medley Relay (Ivey, Rajic, Murphy, Weitzeil)
Bears won the meet opening 200 Medley relay behind freshman Izzy Ivey (back), freshman Ema Rajic (breast), junior Maddie Murphy (fly), and junior Abby Weitzeil (free). A 20.57 second anchor leg by Weitzeil brought home the win (she entered the pool with the Bears in 4th). The Cal quartet posted a time of 1:35.21.
800 Free Relay (Ivey, Neumann, McLaughlin, Bilquist)
Bears closed day 1 by sweeping both events. The quartet of freshman Isabel Ivey (her 2nd swim of the night, good thing that McKeever got her to enroll early to make Cal that much more competitive in the 2019 season), sophomore Robin Neumann, senior Katie McLaughlin, and senior Amy Bilquist won the 800 Free relay with a time of 6:50.63. Bears would eventually sweep the top 3 podium position for the 200 Free with Weitzeil (didn’t swim here), McLaughlin, and Neumann.
200 Free Relay (Weitzeil, Murphy, McLaughlin, Bilquist)
Setting a new top time in the country, Cal quartet of junior Abbey Weitzeil, junior Maddie Murphy, senior Katie McLaughlin, and senior Amy Bilquist posted a time of 1:26.00 in the fastest relay event of the meet.
400 Medley Relay (Bilquist, Rajic, McLaughlin, Weitzeil)
Senior Amy Bilquist (back), freshman Ema Rajic (breast), senior Katie McLaughlin (fly), and junior Abby Weitzeil posted a 3:26.41 to win the 4th relay of the meet. Rajic and Weitzeil also swam in the winning 200 Medley Relay while Bilquist and McLaughlin swam legs of the 800 Free Relay that day.
400 Free Relay (Neumann, McLaughlin, Bilquist, Weitzeil)
Setting a new NCAA record of 3:07.41 were the Cal quartet of sophomore Robin Neumann, senior Katie McLaughlin, senior Amy Bilquist, and junior Abby Weitzeil in the 400 Free relay. This win was not a surprise given that the trio of Weitzeil, Bilquist, and Neumann swept the 100 Free event. Neumann’s 48.17 leadoff split is actually far from her best by 0.3 seconds...yes, the Golden Bears can crush this record by even more next month.
With the NCAA championships expected to be a close fight between 3-4 schools that includes both Cal and Stanford, dominating the relays there would put the Golden Bears in a great spot to possibly take the 2019 team title from a deeper Stanford squad. Relays count for double the points and the top finisher earns an extra point for the win...those 4 point margins can add up quickly.
Big meet for Abby Weitzeil
With Stanford losing both Simone Manuel (Weitzeil’s main competition in the National and International scene as the other top sprinter) and Katie Ledecky (who dominates freestyle from 200 Free on), it was easy to predict a big year for Cal’s Abby Weitzeil. Nonetheless, it was still quite impressive to see the Cal junior dominates all season long.
50 Free - 21.16, new school record
Weitzeil broke Farida Osman’s record for a new Cal school record in this event. Weitzeil’s time is even better than the 21.20 posted by Stanford’s Simone Manuel last year.
200 Free - 1:41.97, 3rd best in Cal history
It was another easy win for Cal’s Abbey Weitzeil as the Bears swept the top 3 spot of the podium in this event. Weitzeil’s time is 3rd best in Cal history behind Missy Franklin and Dana Vollmer, but the best times of the year are usually posted at the NCAA.
100 Free - 46.35, Cal and meet record
Weitzeil was able to lower her own Cal record with a 46.35 swim on the final day of the Pac-12 Championships. One has to wonder just how much better Weitzeil can improve upon her own time between now and the NCAA championships.
The 2016 Rio Gold Medalist has been in the spotlight since coming to Cal after her Rio success, but this junior season is Weitzeil’s coming-out-party given the absence of Kathleen Baker on the Cal squad nor Simone Manuel of Stanford who has edged Weitzeil more often than not in collegiate swims.
Seniors Amy Bilquist and Katie McLaughlin goes out on top
This meet was also a big one for seniors Bilquist and McLaughlin, who along with Baker and Weitzeil (who later deferred matriculation at Cal by one year) was a huge recruiting class that replaced Missy Franklin turning pro early.
Both McLaughlin and Bilquist swam in 4 relays apiece. Bilquist also just won a very close 100 Back over Stanford’s freshman Ruck. Bilquist also posted a 2nd place finish behind teammate Weitzeil in the 50 Free.
McLaughlin also had a strong meet individually. She finished 2nd in 100 Fly (behind USC’s Hansson) and 200 Free (behind teammate Weitzeil). After suffering a freak neck injury in her freshman year that slowed her down for multiple years, McLaughlin took awhile to fully recover and then take a leap forward. By her senior year, Katie appears to be a decent bet to possibly claim a 2020 Tokyo berth next summer.
It was great to see both of these Cal Bears finishing strong in their last Pac-12 Championships of their career.
Impact Underclassmen: Freshmen Ema Rajic and Izzy Ivey and Sophomores Robin Neumann and Sarah Darcel
On the other end of the spectrum, this was a very promising meet for the future of Cal women’s swimming. Ema Rajic quickly takes over the role as the top breaststroker on the squad. In addition to keep it close during the breaststroke legs of the medley relays, Rajic also finished 9th in 100 Breast (6th best time in all of the finals) and 9th in 200 Breast (7th best time in all of the finals).
Enrolling in Cal early, Izzy Ivey, the top prospect for the 2019 class, has also already paid dividend. Other than helping out with the relays, Ivey also finished 2nd in 200 IM (to USC’s Hansson) and 3rd in 100 Fly (to Hansson and teammate McLaughlin). She should be a 20+ points individual contributor for the NCAA - that could easily be the difference between 1st and 3rd.
Another freshman that was expected to possibly contribute big is Cassidy Bayer - who finished 7th in 200 Fly, but only 20th in 500 Free, and 27th (non-scoring) in 200 Free. She is currently on pace to possibly be a B-Finalist in 200 Fly, but it would be lovely if she can do more (sorry, I can’t find what events she has a qualifying time for ahead of the official field announcement), but most signs point to a 2020 or later breakout for Bayer.
Speaking of sophomore breakouts - Dutch Olympian Robin Neumann had several individual A-Final finishes: 7th in 500 Free, 3rd in 200 Free, and 3rd in 100 Free. Fellow sophomore Sarah Darcel finished 3rd in 200 IM, 3rd in 400 IM, and 5th in 200 Fly. They are the most likely sources of surprising points for the Bears at the NCAA championships.
Final Team Standings:
1. Stanford University 1775
2. Cal 1352
3. USC 1183.5
4. Arizona State University 932.5
5. University of Arizona 837
6. UCLA 835
7. Utah 531.5
8. Washington State University 284.5
9. Oregon State University 172
Stanford collected a lot of diving points including 3 A-Finalist in 1-meter diving (3rd, 5th, 7th), 3 A-Finalists in 3-meter diving (2nd, 5th, 8th), and a win in platform diving (1st, 3rd, 7th). That’s already a difference of 230+ points. Stanford also has a 4th diver scoring points just outside the top 4. Cal’s senior Phoebe LaMay and sophomore Briana Thai could only earn points in the B-Finals.
Of course, without diving, Stanford would have narrowly edged the Golden Bears thanks to their dominance in 500 Free (4 A-Finalists), 1650 Free (3 A-Finalists), 400 IM (5 A-Finalists), and 200 Back (5 A-Finalists, including 1-2-3 finish).
Good thing for the Bears is that for the NCAA, there is expected to be more competitions to dilute the events where the Cardinal has dominated (although the same can probably said about Cal), especially in diving.
The NCAA Championships to be raced during March 20th to 23rd from Austin, Texas should be an exciting event that may come down to a relay or two...IF that’s the margin, it’s a great confidence boost to the Bears to have won all 5 this past week.
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!