Stanford (#5 in our midseason power rankings) dominated the touchouts in a home season-ending Pac-12 upset over #1-ranked California.
That’s the second conference dual meet the Golden Bears have dropped in about the past two weeks; they lost to USC on the road on January 31st. Cal has been widely considered the best team in the country this season, and though they still might be the favorites at NCAAs, it’s becoming more and more clear that they’ll be challenged, particularly by their in-state rivals Stanford and USC, who haven’t appeared star-struck in the least when facing Cal’s roster of swimming celebrities.
The biggest of those Golden Bear names, freshman and international superstar Missy Franklin, wasn’t the problem Saturday. The Olympic gold medalist won three races and put up the field’s fastest split in her one relay swim. She kicked off the meet with a big win in the 1000 free, going 9:53.81 to easily outpace Stanford’s Andie Taylor. With the meet being televised on the Pac-12 network, the event order was switched to put the long 1000 race at the very beginning, and it turned into a nice early momentum boost for Cal.
Unfortunately for the Golden Bears, the momentum was short-lived. In the very next event, the 200 medley relay, Stanford touched out their Pac-12 rivals by just under a tenth of a second to pull back within 4 points. The relay team of Felicia Lee, Katie Olsen, Nicole Stafford and Maddy Schaefer went 1:39.14 for the win, topping Cal’s squad of Cindy Tran, Yvette Kong, Farida Osman and Kaylin Bing. The race was intensely back-and-forth, with Tran jumping out to an early lead for Cal in backstroke and Olsen erasing that lead with a 27.6 breast split. Osman put Cal back on top with a 23.7 fly leg before Schaefer ran down Bing, splitting 21.9 to give the Cardinal its first of many touchouts on the day.
The B relays finished within .01 seconds of each other with Cal on top, although it wound up not mattering as Stanford’s B team was disqualified.
After a one-event hiatus, Franklin was back in the pool for Cal to win the 200 free easily, going 1:45.46 to knock off fellow rookie Lia Neal of Stanford. Neal was 1:47.52.
But then Stanford went on a tear. First Felicia Lee nipped Elizabeth Pelton in the 100 back 53.02 to 53.04 for a huge win – that meant Stanford outscored Cal, which typically boasts in insane gauntlet of elite-level backstrokers (although Franklin and Olympian Rachel Bootsma did not enter the 100 back at this dual).
Next, red-hot Stanford junior Katie Olsen tore away with the 100 breast win, going 1:00.56 and leading a 1-2 finish for Stanford that put the Cardinal within 3. Sophomore Sarah Haase was second, and in what can’t be an encouraging sign for Cal, top freshman breaststroker Marina Garcia was just 1:04.20 and finished fifth. Breaststroke looks to be one of the biggest areas of need for the Bears at this point, and Garcia, a Spanish Olympian with a wealth of international experience, has seemed to have trouble this season adjusting her speed and talent to a short-course setting.
After that, senior star Maya DiRado went 1:57.85 in the 200 fly to win yet another touchout, beating Cal’s Celina Li by .25.And if that wasn’t enough, junior Maddy Schaefer led another 1-2 charge in the 50 free, going a dominating 22.46, followed by Lia Neal’s 22.73. Both got in ahead of Cal’s Caitlin Bing (22.99) and suddenly Stanford led by 11.
In the 100 free, Missy Franklin gave Cal a desperately-needed third win to halt the runaway train of Stanford momentum. She went 48.99 to remain undefeated in three individual races, touching out Neal by just .12, one of just a few close races that went Cal’s way on this day.
Franklin’s partner in crime Liz Pelton made it two in a row for the top-ranked team in the country by winning the 200 back easily. Her 1:55.35 was the top time in the field by about three seconds, and it gave Cal a slim 3-point lead once again.
But the Stanford breaststroke machine returned, 1-2ing the 200 breast with Katie Olsen once again leading the way. Olsen has been swimming lights-out the past few months and continues to come through in high-pressure situations for the stacked Cardinal. She went 2:11.23, a dominant effort that won by four full seconds. Her teammate Sarah Haase finished second, touching out Cal’s Celina Li by just .04.
The Cardinal put together another 1-2 in the 500 free. This time it was seniors Andie Taylor and Maya DiRado who did the honors, with Taylor winning in 4:49.06 and DiRado going 4:49.41. With Missy Franklin‘s individual entries used up, Cal had no answer in the longer-distance race, and fell behind by 15 points in the team ledger.
Senior Felicia Lee came back to win her second event in the 100 fly for Stanford to push that lead to 18. Her 52.74 easily topped the field, which for Cal included freshman Sophia Batchelor, Egyptian rookie Farida Osman and backstroking powerhouse Rachel Bootsma. Interestingly, Bootsma didn’t enter either backstroke race in this meet, just as she did in the USC loss, instead swimming both butterflys. The defending NCAA champ in the 100 back seems to have struggled some lately, looking very unlike the dominant swimmer who earned Olympic gold back in 2012. There’s no need for Cal to panic as she’s still got a few weeks to rest before things really heat up at Pac-12s and NCAAs, but the Stanford and USC losses both showed that her absence in the sprint backstroke is very prominent, even with Cal’s other players in the event.
Then it was senior Maya DiRado who came back to win her second race in three events. She went 1:57.62 to win the 200 IM, touching out Cal’s Celina Li just as she did in the 200 fly early in the meet. DiRado also beat sophomore Liz Pelton in the race. That put Stanford up by 29 points, just 18 away from the 150 needed to clinch the win with three events remaining.
The 400 free relay effectively ended the meet. Stanford roared out to a big win, leading wire-to-wire to grab the 11-point victory and also take third with their B. Maddy Schaefer led off the top Stanford team in 49.60 to provide a two-tenth lead. Julia Anderson added another tenths before Felicia Lee outsplit her opponent by .8, putting up a 49.12 and staking Stanford to a 1.2-second lead with Cal ace Missy Franklin attempting to provide the relay run-down. But Stanford’s Lia Neal made the final leg a deadlock, splitting exactly the same as Franklin, down to the hundredth of a second (48.64). That mean’t Stanford’s big lead easily held as the Cardinal won 3:18.06 to 3:19.28.
The two diving events were tallied into the final score at the end of the meet and were enough to close out Stanford’s win. Stephanie Phipps scored 323.25 on 3-meter to take the win and officially seal the deal for the Cardinal. Phipps wound up second to Cal’s Anne Kastler on 1-meter, but by that point the meet was already well in hand.
The final score was Stanford 167, Cal 133. The teams now have about a week and a half before they’ll collide again at the Pac-12 Championships with USC also thrown into the mix. It’s hard to say how many members of each team will be partially or full rested, as a lot of the big names are already qualified for the NCAA meet in March, but it should still provide another chapter in what’s becoming a fascinating Pac-12 landscape that should have a big impact on the final standings at the 2014 national championships.