Pac-10 Championships have been a given for the Stanford Cardinal men for quite some time. To be precise, for the last 29-straight years, no team other than Stanford has been able to call themselves the Pac-10 Men’s Champions.
But that streak could, quite possibly, be in danger. Cal is the heavy favorite for the NCAA Championship, though that doesn’t always equate to a Pac-10 title. The Golden Bears hardly graduated any points off of their Pac-10 squad from last year, whereas Stanford graduated the reigning Swimmer of the Championship, Eugene Godsoe, among others. With just a slim 70-point margin from last season, streak could be in trouble. Stanford has a monster of a freshman class coming in next season, so if they can win this one, the streak should be safe for many years to come.
But not to be discounted is the return of Stanford’s Austin Staab, who took a mysterious leave of absence for the Cardinal and returned to competition earlier this year juts after the Cardinal broke holiday training. By himself, he’s probably worth in the neighborhood of 45 points. As a member of the Stanford relays, he’s probably good for another 6 or 8. In a meet where every point will count, he’s going to be a huge addition.
Cal has a big addition themselves. In addition to some solid depth-adders, like Jeremy Bagshaw and Shayne Fleming, Cal added a difference-maker in Marcin Tarczynski. He is a versatile IM’er, and when it comes down to it, the only meet-changing freshman on either roster.
In their dual meet, which is a decent indicator as it took place just a week ago, Stanford won, but only by 6 points. Those kind of slim margins don’t mean much though, especially in the abbreviated schedule the teams used, so ultimately it doesn’t tell us a whole lot other than that the meet will be very close.
Arizona should be on a bit of a down year, by their standards, based on who they graduated. But rather than cash it in as a rebuilding season, their strong and talented junior class, led by Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year candidate Cory Chitwood, have put the kibosh on that notion. Their women’s team couldn’t have been happy with how they performed last week, and as a co-ed program, Arizona will have to be careful not to fall into the same trap.
USC has the foundations of an impressive young core, led by dual high school record holder Vlad Morozov, but it doesn’t appear as though it’s quite their time. With only two significant graduations though (breaststroker Dillon Connolly and Emmitt Walling’s mustache are both seniors), they will have their turn. In the meantime, they will be apt to play the role of spoiler. They have a very young squad, but a squad that is still very experienced in big-meet situations thanks to their impressive pedigrees, and the Trojans should step-up and race hard.
An interesting twist in this year’s meet will be the addition of Cal-Poly and UC-Santa Barbara in their first year as associate Pac-10 members, which brings the conference up to 7 members this year. Neither team will place in the top 4, but both have a few swimmers whose names will come up at the meet. UCSB has surprising depth in its sprint group (led by Chris Peterson and Kevn Ferguson) and could challenge the big-four teams in the free relays. Cal Poly’s Peter Kline is the best-swimmer in program history, and last year became the program’s first ever Division-1 Championship qualifier. There, he placed 21st in the 400 IM, and he should score a top-3 finish in that race at Pac-10’s. These two teams add just enough diversity to the conference to give the top teams a little-bit extra to think about in terms of strategic event-planning.
Men’s diving was completed at the King Aquatics Center last weekend in conjunction with the women’s championship. Stanford cashed in in a big way in the diving competition, and opened up a huge 100-point lead over Cal (75-point lead over USC, and 110-point lead over Arizona). While Stanford had to use an extra roster spot to do so (they have 12 scores compared to Cal’s 6, which is the equivalent of 2 and 1 of the alloted roster spots), the scoring difference made it well worth it. The point differential is roughly the equivalent of the second-to-last swimmer winning 5 individual events. Stanford may not have had the spectacular divers that USC and Arizona State had, but their depth gives them outstanding value in the Pac-10.
On an individual level, the diving saw great battles between USC’s top two (Harrison Jones and Steven Starks) and Arizona State’s top two (Riley McCormick and Constantine Blaha). On the 1-meter, USC’s Jones fought back after being second in the preliminaries to win with a solid 435.00. On the 3-meter, ASU’s Blaha (who has one of the best names in college swimming and diving) put up a huge score of 451.80. And the Sun Devils took the edge in the wins department when McCormick won the men’s platform ahead of Jones.
Races to Watch
100 yard fly
Cal’s Tom Shields is the defending National Champion in this event. The big question mark (which we will never get the answer to) is whether or not that would be true if Staab, who was the 2009 champion, had competed last year. But we finally get our Pac-10 super-race this season. The two didn’t face-off in this event at their dual meet last weekend (there was no 100 fly), but they did both swim it on the 400 medley relay. In that race, Shields outsplit Staab 46.03-46.20. Shields has also been much faster this season than Staab (45.33 in December), but Staab’s inability to compete in the first semester gave him a different sort of season-plan. Staab has the better career time (44.18), though that was done in a polyurethane suit. This will be a huge test of whether Staab has regained his focus since returning to the pool full-time for Stanford. Based on the timing of the meet, I like Shields in this race.
1650 yard free
Stanford’s Chad La Tourette could very well be swimming by himself in this race, though USC’s Richard Charlesworth could push him with a fantastic swim. But I’m very curious to see what the American does compared to the 14:35 that Georgia’s Martin Godski put up at SEC’s two weeks ago. I don’t expect La Tourette to be at his absolute peak in this race, but something in the 14:39 range would be very encouraging for him. Beyond that, just like it was for their women’s team, this is a huge race for the Stanford men. It’s very possible (depending on how they line up events) that the Cardinal will have 5 swimmers in the top 8, and they will need that kind of surge on the final day of competition to hold off a charging Cal team, who will likely muster only two B-finalists.
100 yard breaststroke
This is going to be one heck of a race. There are 6 swimmers seeded under a 54, including representatives from each of the top four teams. USC’s Dillon Connolly is the top seed (53.00), but those behind him include defending Pac-10 and NCAA Champion Damir Dugonjic of Cal (53.67) and a trio of Arizona Wildcats seeded at 53-highs (Carl Mickelson, Kelley Wyman, and Kevin Munsch). Until he’s dethroned, regardless of seed times, Dugonjic will remain the favorite in this event.
100 yard freestyle
It almost seems a tragedy that we’ve gotten this far into the preview without mentioning the big showdown of this meet: the 100 free. Cal senior Nathan Adrian is the present of American sprinting, and USC freshman is the future (if he can ever get his citizenship straightened out). Many have fantasized that Morozov might be able to knock Adrian off in this race. I don’t think he’s ready for that yet, but this race will still get more google-hits and message-board discussion than any other in this weekend’s meet.
This is a really tough meet to pick this season. There is little doubt in my mind, that all-rests equal, Cal is the best team in the country…in the NCAA Championship format. But Conference Championships are a whole different animal. Wins aren’t as important at the conference level, which plays into Stanford’s favor. Cal should take the majority of the relays, and being able to keep Nathan Adrian off of medley in favor of the 800 bolsters them there. It sounds a bit absurd, but it wouldn’t be outside of the realm of reason for Cal to win 12 or 13 of the 18 swimming events in this meet…and still lose.
There’s just something special about Stanford at Pac-10’s. Well, some might argue it’s not that special, and that they just taper harder for this meet than most of their opponents. Not many of our readers follow diving all that closely, but it’s going to be a huge factor in this meet. You can think about it thusly: compare the two teams if you removed Tom Shields and Damir Dugonjic from Cal’s roster. All of a sudden, Stanford looks a lot better on the comparison, and that’s the kind of deficits that we’re talking about here.
I’m going to fight past all of the flash and awe of the Cal roster, and take the Cardinal to win number 30 in a row.
Arizona-USC will also be an interesting battle. Neither team is particularly deep, though the Wildcats will have many more A-finalists than USC. But if they look at all like the Arizona women’s team did, then USC’s depth might start to look a lot deeper. For now, I’m going to take Arizona for third, but I reserve the right to amend that prediction after we see what Arizona looks like on the first day of competition.
Arizona State has a huge lead ahead of UCSB and Cal Poly after diving, and though the Gauchos from Santa Barbara should outscore ASU in the swimming events, it won’t be enough to make up 150 points.
1. Stanford Cardinal
2. Cal Golden Bears
3. Arizona Wildcats
4. USC Trojans
5. Arizona State Sun Devils
6. UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos
7. Cal-Poly Mustangs