We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs for the 2018-2018 season – stay tuned to our College Swimming Previews channel to catch all 24. Can’t get enough college swimming news? Check out the College Preview issue of SwimSwam Magazine for more in-depth college swimming coverage, including a bird’s-eye view of the flood of coaching changes and our ever-popular rankings of the top 50 individual swimmers in college swimming.
#2 CAL GOLDEN BEARS
Key Losses: Kathleen Baker (53 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Noemie Thomas (22 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays)
Key Additions: Cassidy Bayer (DC – fly), Elise Garcia (CA – sprint free/fly), Ema Rajic (IL – breast), Alex Sumner (PA – back), Alicia Wilson (GBR – IM)
As the NCAA finish order is determined by points, we base our grading scale on projected NCAA points. Versatility and high ceilings are nice, but they don’t win you NCAA titles unless they bring points with them. Bear in mind that all of these grades are projections more than 6 months out – and as none of us has a working crystal ball, these projections are very subjective and very likely to change over the course of the season. Disagreeing with specific grades is completely acceptable; furiously lashing out at a writer, commenter or specific athlete is not.
- A = projected to score significant (10+) NCAA points per event
- B = projected to score some (3-10) NCAA points per event
- C = projected on the bubble to score likely only a few (1-2) or no NCAA points per event
- D = projected to score no NCAA points
We’ll grade each event discipline: sprint free (which we define to include all the relay-distance freestyle events, so 50, 100 and 200 plus the 200, 400 and 800 free relays), distance free, IM, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly.
2017-2018 LOOK BACK
Thanks to the outstanding racing from Kathleen Baker and a very deep sprint free group, Cal secured a 2nd place finish at the NCAA Championships behind only Bay Area rival Stanford. The Golden Bears finished as high as 2nd in three different relays, while Baker won the 200 back crown in NCAA and American record fashion and Abbey Weitzeil found her way to the A final in the 50 and 100 frees. Freshmen Robin Neumann and Sarah Darcel delivered, both reaching an individual A final, while another rookie, Ali Harrison, helped Cal’s breaststroke problem with a very solid 58.8 400 medley relay split.
SPRINT FREE: A+
The top-end talent here is deep, and with Simone Manuel done at Stanford, Weitzeil will be in contention with Erika Brown for the 50 free title and Mallory Comerford for the 100 free title, pending any freshmen who could compete. Whether she wins or not is hardly too important, though– Weitzeil is one of the fastest sprinters in yards, ever, and she will keep relays in the title conversation while also bringing in a good 30+ points on her own.
Meanwhile, Amy Bilquist and Maddie Murphy were both 21 flat starts last year and went 1-2 in the 50 free B final. Katie McLaughlin has made considerable strides in her sprint freestyle game, and freshman Elise Garcia comes in at 22.6/49.4.
While more of a 200 freestyler, Neumann was a 48-low last season and will likely replace Baker’s 400 free relay leg to join Bilquist, Weitzeil, and McLaughlin. As far as the 800 free relay goes, we might see those same four again, though a substitution might be made if Coach Teri McKeever wants to save a big gun for another relay.
DISTANCE FREE: C-
McLaughlin (4:39.4), Chenoa Devine (4:40.6) and Neumann (4:40.9) were all clumped together to lead the Bears in the 500 last year. McLaughlin could do either the 500 or the 50 on day 2 of NCAAs, but she may end up on all five relays and skip a day 2 individual since Noemie Thomas is graduated and off the fly medley leg. Whether or not that’s the case, these three would all be cusp B final scorers.
Devine was the only person to race the 1650 on the Cal roster last year with a 16:16.20 season best at Pac-12s, which is not in NCAA scoring range.
Baker out is tough, but Sarah Darcel scored in the 400 IM A final last year and raced the 200 IM B final as a freshman. Half of the 2018 400 IM A final is either graduated or has gone pro, giving Darcel a great shot to repeat in the top 8. Keaton Blovad‘s 1:55.7 from Pac-12’s would have B finaled at NCAAs, giving the Bears another option.
Meanwhile, freshmen Bayer (4:12), Rajic (4:14), and Sumner (4:15) could all develop in the 400 IM, and British freshman Wilson brings in a 2:14 IM in long course which is not to be overlooked.
McLaughlin went up top for both butterfly events, touching 4th in the 200 and 6th in the 100. She should also provide very strong relay splits for the Bears, though Maddie Murphy may be called on for the 200 medley relay. A pure sprinter, Murphy could free up McLaughlin to focus on the other four relays and add a third event, or she might allow for McLaughlin to anchor the 200 medley giving Weitzeil more room to do something else. Individually, Murphy is a fringe player for a 100 fly B final appearance.
Cassidy Bayer is one of the best 200 flyers in yards in the incoming class, and could be a scorer in that event individually. Elise Garcia, too, is a very strong flyer with times of 52.7/1:56.6, so look for her to be another potential scorer for Cal.
There’s no replacing Baker, but having Bilquist in your back pocket (sorry for the pun) is a life saver. Bilquist is capable of sub-51 (her best is 50.50), and she wound up 10th in the 100 back at NCAAs. She traded out the 200 back for the 100 free individually last year, but she has been 1:49 before.
Blovad was strong last year at 51.8/1:53.3, while Sophie Krivokapic-Zhou hit a 52.5 last year in the 100. Freshman Alex Sumner will certainly play into things in the 200 in particular, having been 1:52.3 (and 2:09.0 in LCM).
Being in C+/B- territory is pretty darn good for the Golden Bears considering past seasons. Breaststroke may no longer be their Achilles heel, with 26-mid relay potential out of Weitzeil in the 50, and a sub-59 split from Harrison on the 400 medley was nothing to scoff at. Distance is the only roster group weaker than breaststroke, but Cal can get by with what they have, and Harrison is a fringe scoring option in the 100.
Freshman Rajic may develop into something great for Cal, coming in at 1:00.6 and 2:14.1, and she’s on the sprintier side of things which could be good for the 200 medley, too.
Cal lost Baker and Thomas, two huge talents, but their roster is padded with so much primo talent that they will fare just fine without them. Their freshman class is a bit more modest than some of the classes we’ve seen in the past (Baker-Bilquist-McLaughlin?! All in one class?!) but has the potential to bite, and the depth for relays paired with the fact that at least 7-8 women are poised to score on their own means Cal should be in good standing for another 2nd place finish.