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Key Losses: Rachel Bootsma (37 NCAA points, 3 NCAA relays), Liz Pelton (8 NCAA points, 1 NCAA relay), Rachel Acker (1 NCAA Relay, Pac-12 finalist freestyler), Kelly Naze (33 NCAA points),
Key Additions: Abbey Weitzeil (sprint free), Maddie Murphy (sprint free/fly), Keaton Blovad (sprint free), Chenoa Devine (distance free), Courtney Mykkanen (back/IM)
At the conference level, the Bears won 4 event titles at the Pac-12 Championships, 2 of which were done in Pac-12 Record fashion by Farida Osman, en route to a 3rd place team finish. They also placed 3rd at the NCAA Championships after capturing their 2nd-straight 200 free relay title. They also got an individual NCAA victory from Rachel Bootsma, who won a tightly contested race in the 100 back to take her 3rd NCAA crown in the event in 4 college seasons.
SPRINT FREE: A+
The Cal sprint free group is in good hands with returners Farida Osman and Amy Bilquist. Osman (21.3/47.2) was an NCAA finalist in both the 50 and 100 last season, and should be in contention for another top 3 finish this year in at least the 50. Bilquist (22.1/48.0) has the potential to score individually in the 50 if she puts up her best time, but will likely swim the 200 back instead of the 100 free individually.
Among the potential relay swimmers returning are Kathleen Baker (22.6/48.2), Valerie Hull (22.2/48.8), Kristen Vredeveld (22.3/48.5), and Katie McLaughlin (22.6/48.3). All in all, Cal has at least 5 returning women who have been sub-22 in the 200 free relay or 48-low in the 400 free relay from a relay start.
With the returning group, Cal has no lack of depth in the sprints and several potential individual scorers. Now add Abbey Weitzeil (21.1, 46.2), Maddie Murphy (22.5/48.6), and Keaton Blovad (22.7/49.0) to the mix and you’ve got a dangerous looking sprint free group for the Golden Bears.
Weitzeil is the fastest woman in history in the 50 yard free and 2nd fastest ever in the 100 yard free, so it’s definitely a possibility that she’ll be bringing in 1st place points in those races next season despite Stanford’s return of Simone Manuel, the current American Record holder in the 100 free. Look forward to some fun battles between those two next year.
DISTANCE FREE: B+
Most of Cal’s points in the longer freestyle races will likely come in the 200 free and 800 free relay. Individually, Katie McLaughlin (1:43.0) and Abbey Weitzeil (1:43.2) both have best times well under what it took to make the A-final last season. McLaughlin faced some roadblocks in her freshman season due to a neck injury, but indications are that she’s back on form.
In addition to those two, Cal still has Kathleen Baker (1:43.6) and Amy Bilquist (1:45.0) from last season’s 800 free relay. Despite her personal best being just a 1:45.0, Bilquist proved she’s a huge asset to this relay with her 1:42.8 anchor split last season, so Cal should have 4 women capable of 1:43 or faster.
The 500 and 1650 freestyles don’t look like a big scoring area for Cal at NCAAs, but they should be able to bring in a good amount of points at Pac-12s. Newcomers Chenoa Devine (4:44.4/16:20.3) and Anina Lund (4:49.4, 16:27.9) will make good training partners, and both are already good enough to score at conference.
Coming off a second place 200 IM finish in 2016, Kathleen Baker (1:52.80) is easily a top-8 scorer for Cal in this area. The Bears will also have Celina Li (1:53.8/4:05.1), who finished 8th at NCAAs in the 200 IM. If Li can get back to her best in the 400 IM, she could bring in points there as well.
Outside of that, Cal doesn’t have a lot of scoring prospects in the IMs, but Chenoa Devine (4:16.4) will add some depth in the 400 IM at Pac-12s, and Blovad could be a good conference-level 200 IMer, though she’s got lots of different directions she could go lineup-wise.
Farida Osman (50.5) and Noemie Thomas (50.7) both have 100 fly bests in the 50-point range, and will return for the Bears after placing 3rd and 6th, respectively, at NCAAs. Thomas extends her fly range to the 200, where she’s already been a top 8 finalist and will have a chance to bring in big points there as well.
Returning a healthy Katie McLaughlin will be a key to the fly group this season. McLaughlin was severely hampered in the postseason and didn’t even qualify for NCAAs after sustaining a neck injury during the team’s training trip to Hawaii. With lifetime bests of 51.5 and 1:54.1, she’s already good enough to score at NCAAs in both events, and if her wicked-fast 2:06.9 long course meter 200 fly can transfer to short course, she could be a legitimate NCAA title contender.
Jasmine Mau (52.0/1:54.8) and Maddie Murphy (52.1) have best times that are good enough to pick up B-final points at NCAAs and final at Pac-12s. Celina Li‘s 1:56.7 in the 200 fly is good enough for the conference final as well.
Returning sophomores Amy Bilquist (50.5/1:49.9) was a huge factor for Cal in the backstrokes last season. She dropped chunks of time from her previous bests at the Pac-12 meet before finishing in the top 8 in both backstrokes at NCAAs. Bilquist will also be a contender for the backstroke spot on Cal’s medley relays.
Battling with Bilquist for that relay spot will be Kathleen Baker (51.0/1:50.7), who scored in the B-final of the 100 and 200 back last season. Baker was faster at Pac-12s than NCAAs, so she’s got definite championship final potential. It also helps that she’s now got the confidence boost of an Olympic silver medal.
Now that Rachel Bootsma has graduated, those two are the only likely scorers for Cal in the backstrokes at NCAAs, but between the two of them, they could add up a lot of points. At Pac-12s, Kristen Vredeveld (53.1) and newcomers Courtney Mykkanen (53.9/1:56.0) and Keaton Blovad (53.5/1:57.3) should be able to pull in some points as well.
Cal has had a hole in its lineup in the breaststroke events over the last few years, and the outlook is pretty much the same for the upcoming season. They don’t have any standouts at the NCAA level, but Marina Garcia (1:00.5/2:09.1) was a scorer in the championship final of the 100 and 200 breast at 2016 Pac-12s.
Maija Roses (1:01.4/2:12.0) should also have an impact at the conference meet, coming off of top-16 conference finishes in both races last season. In addition, incoming freshman Alexa Buckley (1:02.5/2:16.5) is already fast enough to have scored in both breaststrokes last season at the Pac-12 meet.
While it’s highly unlikely that Kathleen Baker (59.3) would swim the 100 breast individually, she does have the fastest 100 breast time of anyone on the team by far, making her an option for the medley relay.
Cal is stacked in a handful of areas, and should be very competitive in the sprint relays with the likes of Osman and Weitzeil. Like last year, their biggest challenge will come in the breaststroke events. They also have some holes in the longer events, as no one stands out as an immediate scorer in the 400 IM, 500 free, or mile. Despite those gaps in the lineup, the Bears will likely find themselves fighting for another top 3 finish thanks to a great outlook for their free relays, sprint freestylers, and fliers.