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Cal Women’s Swimming wins 4 Pac-12 titles to finish 2nd; injury concerns before NCAA

While senior Abbey Weitzeil was held out of the last two days of racing, other Golden Bears stepped up

Sophomore Isabel Ivey won one individual and two relay Pac-12 titles
Cal Athletics Twitter

As expected, Cal Golden Bears women’s swimming (and diving) continued to win more Pac-12 championships. The total haul from the 2020 Pac-12 Championship was 4 conference titles: 2 individual and 2 relays. For the 4th consecutive year, Cal finished behind Stanford in the team standings. Still, Stanford for the 2020 school year is merely very good rather than great compared to the past three years when the Cardinal had three-peated at the NCAA Championships. Cal, IF they could be at 100% health-wise in three weeks from Athens, GA, might just be able to come away with another team NCAA Championship, it would only be the 5th in program history, if everything breaks right in a tight race against Stanford, Virginia, Tennessee, etc.

Top of the Podium at the Pac-12

Cal Bears won the following events from Federal Way, WA.

  • 400 Medley Relay (Keaton Blovad - Back, Ema Rajic - Breast, Isabel Ivey - Fly, Abbey Weitzeil - Free)

As the psych sheet favorites for all 5 relays, Cal took their first Pac-12 title on the second event of the meet. On the Fly leg, sophomore Isabel Ivey turned a small deficit into a lead and senior Abbey Weitzeil made sure that the Bears would hold on for the win.

  • 50 Free - Abbey Weitzeil, new Pac-12 record time of 21.09

Senior Calympian Abbey Weitzeil won the 50 Free on Thursday as expected. However, she hit the final wall hard and injured her wrist/arm (she did something similar at the NCAA Championships last year and still won more races). Weitzeil also did not match/break her under 21 second (20.90) record from last December.

As a precaution (supposedly), Weitzeil was held out of the rest of the Pac-12 meet. She should be ready to go at the NCAA Championships.

  • 200 Free Relay (Eloise Riley, Keaton Blovad, Maddie Murphy, Isabel Ivey)

You knew that there was something wrong with Weitzeil when she, after noticeable discomfort in the post 50 Free win interview, was not listed for the Cal relay lineup later on Thursday. Ivey slide into Weitzeil’s anchor spot to pair with a freshman in Riley and a pair of seniors in Blovad and Murphy.

  • 100 Back - Isabel Ivey

Ivey edged teammate Keaton Blovad for the 100 Back title on Friday. Cal also won this event last year when Amy Bilquist took the title in her senior season.

Bears continue the strong tradition in the backstroke races, dating back to Calympian Natalie Coughlin and onto Calympian Missy Franklin, Calympian Rachel Bootsma, Elizabeth Pelton, Calympian Kathleen Baker, and Amy Bilquist. Backstroke is also the best event for Cal’s incoming top recruit for next year in Isabel Stadden.

More Podium at the Pac-12

Cal also finished in the top 3 (size of the Pac-12 podium) for the following events.

  • 2nd at 800 Free Relay (Ayla Spitz, Izzy Ivey, Robin Neumann, and Alicia Wilson) behind USC
  • 2nd at 200 Medley Relay (Keaton Blovad, Ema Rajic, Maddie Murphy, Eloise Riley) behind Stanford
  • 2nd at 400 Free Relay (Izzy Ivey, Keaton Blovad, Eloise Riley, Robin Neumann) behind USC

Bears certainly could have won the 200 Medley and 400 Free relays had they got Weitzeil’s usual split in the mix.

More Cal top 3 finishers included:

  • 2nd for Keaton Blovad in 100 Back - it was a very strong meet for the Cal senior
  • 2nd for Isabel Ivey and 3rd for Alicia Wilson in 200 IM - Bears finished 2nd through 4th in this event
  • 2nd for Alicia Wilson in 400 IM - strong race for the British Calympian hopeful
  • 2nd for Isabel Ivey in 100 Fly
  • 3rd for Robin Neumann in 200 Free
  • 3rd for Rachel Klinker in 200 Fly - a breakthrough swim for the Cal freshman

Bears had A-Finalist (top 8) in the following events. These are good indicators of possible NCAA scorers (only top 16 in the country will score team points).

  • 8th for Robin Neumann in 500 Free - kind of a disappointing final for the Dutch Calympian
  • 4th for Keaton Blovad in 200 IM
  • 4th for Maddie Murphy, 7th for Eloise Riley in 50 Free
  • 7th for Maddie Murphy in 100 Fly
  • 4th for Ema Rajic in 100 Breast
  • 5th for Sarah Dimeco in 1640 Free - great showing for the Cal freshman in an event, the swimming “mile”, that Cal has traditionally been weak at
  • 5th for Keaton Blovad, 6th for Courtney Mykkanon in 200 Back
  • 5th for Robin Neumann, 8th for Eloise Riley in 100 Free
  • 6th for Briana Thai in platform diving

Overall, Cal finished with 1224.5 points, behind Stanford’s 1598 points but ahead of USC’s 1212 points.

Abbey Weitzeil - why Cal may be considered the favorites for the NCAA team title

Calympian Abbey Weitzeil was a member of that historic recruiting class for Cal head coach Teri McKeever along side Kathleen Baker (turned pro early two years ago), Katie McLaughlin, and Amy Bilquist. Out of that group, Weitzeil opted to delay her Cal matriculation by one year and made the 2016 USA Olympic teams, winning a Gold in the relay.

Fortunately for Cal, Weitzeil did not take this season off to prep elsewhere for the 2020 Tokyo games. After battling Stanford alum Simone Manuel both at the NCAA and at International stages as the top sprinter in the US for the last few years, Weitzeil is the clear top sprinter in college this year.

In addition to her record breaking 20.90 swim at the 50 Free, Weitzeil is nearly a lock to also win the 100 Free. She is also quite strong for the 200 Free. With an anchor like Weitzeil, Cal would be the favorite in 4 of the 5 relays at the NCAA - 200 Free, 200 Medley, 400 Free, 400 Medley. Remember those relays count of double the points for the NCAA team standings.

Last year, Weitzeil also hit the wall hard and hurt her elbow at the NCAA. She toughed it out and won more races after the injury. All indications is that Weitzeil was held out of Friday and Saturday of the Pac-12 Championships, where she was seen with a sling on the sideline, only as a precaution. Should Weitzeil hurt her arm more at the NCAA this year, there is slight uncertainty of Cal (and Teri) doing her a favor by holding her out to save her for the Olympic Trials in June. Of course, being a great competitor, I highly doubt that Abbey Weitzeil will want to finish her illustrious Cal career in that way.

Isabel Ivey - the next Cal swimming great is already here

Isabel Ivey pulled the opposite of the Abbey Weitzeil. Ivey should be a freshman this year (and the top recruit of this class in the country), but with the Cal Bears needing some help last year, Ivey graduated high school early and enrolled at Cal last spring. Her impact on the Cal team was immediate last Spring when she scored points at the NCAA Championships in a variety of ways.

As expected, she has blossomed into even more of a fixture in the Cal lineup in her first full year with the program. Ivey can swim backstroke, fly, free, and IM as well as anyone in the country. The question for every meet is not so much IF she will be a scorer in an event, but rather FOR WHICH events will she score points to help her team.

In an interview with Swimming World, Ivey credit her time overlapping with last year’s seniors Katie McLaughlin and Amy Bilquist last season.

The 2020 Pac-12 championship was a huge breakthrough for Ivey as she played an important role in the two relays wins as well as winning her first individual Pac-12 title in the 100 Backstroke. Ivey came close to the win in two other events, 100 Fly and 200 IM and one would imagine that 100 Back, 100 Fly, and 200 IM would be the same program for her at the NCAA Championships (where an individual swimmer is only allowed to swim 3 different individual events outside the relays).

While it is very hard to predict US Olympian given how hard it is to qualify (only the top two from most events based solely on the Olympic Trials meet), Ivey would be one of the young, up-and-coming swimmer to watch out for this June.

NCAA Outlook

It should be an exciting NCAA Championship this year with Stanford having a down year without a superstar in the likes of Katie Ledecky (turned pro), Simone Manuel (graduated), Taylor Ruck (taking the year off to prep for the 2020 Tokyo game), or Regan Smith (top prospect that committed to Stanford who will start college career this fall). While Stanford could still pull off the four-peat without a superstar, Cal’s Abbey Weitzeil is arguably the biggest sure thing (IF healthy) at the NCAA this year.

Based on the top times of the year, SwimSwam’s “Swimulator” LOVE the Golden Bears for the NCAA in their March 1st, 2020 update. We are talking about a projection of 344.5 points for the Bears with only 276.5 for Tennessee next (Stanford is 7th with 187). Of course, that projection is expecting both Cal at full strength and does not factor in how everybody will be dropping a lot of time at the National Championships, particularly in an Olympic year.

In addition to Weitzeil’s injury, Cal also did not have Sarah Darcel at the Pac-12 Championships due to a knee injury (according to the Pac-12 broadcast). Darcel would be a point scorer for the Bears in both IM events and possibly at other places for at least 20-30 points. I certainly hope the Cal sophomore will be ready to go in Georgia in a few weeks.

Also, the Swimulator does not factor in diving. NCAA Diving qualifying is its own event that is coming up. While since graduated diver Phoebe LaMay had participated at the NCAA for the past few seasons, Cal has not had a diving scorer in several years. Despite the much needed facility upgrade at Legends Swimming facility on campus so that Cal divers does not need to trek down to Stanford to practice platform diving, Cal diving has yet to breakthrough with NCAA point scorer in both the men and the women diving in the past 4 years. Hopefully this will change for the better soon. Still, count on both Stanford and Tennessee to gain a lot of points (as much as 50-150 points) on the Bears from Diving.

Nonetheless, it will be another fun NCAA Championships to track in 2020. The 2020 NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships will take place from Athens, Georgia on March 18th-21st.