HardCore Swim of the Week: Chenault cues upset bid for fiery USC Trojans

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With college conference meets fast approaching, one might expect the weekly drama of NCAA swimming to die down just a little bit as teams turn their attention forward to post-season competition. That was hardly the case this week, though, as we saw one of the most intense and upset-filled weekends of college swimming all year.

Whether it was Tennessee’s upset of the Florida women on senior day, a top-10 desert battle between Zona and Texas or a live-tweeted Big Ten rivalry match between Ohio State and Michigan, it seemed like everywhere you turned this weekend, swimming was nothing if not exciting.

And of course, nothing completes an upset weekend like a consensus #1 team falling to a conference rival. The Cal women, widely considered the NCAA favorites thanks to a roster loaded with Olympians and international superstars, were upset on the road by a tough, gritty USC team that showed up ready to swim.

Key to that effort was Trojan freshman Chelsea Chenault. Chenault swam three times for USC, picking up wins in all three races. But the most impactful thing about this Trojan’s weekend was perhaps the way she bolstered momentum early with a dominating performance in the meet’s third event.

USC and Cal split the first two events, with the Trojans powering away with the opening relay, but being unable to match Cal Olympian Missy Franklin in the 1000, as so many teams this year have been unable to do. Chenault took on another Cal National Team swimmer Liz Pelton, in the 200 free with USC clinging to a 5-point lead and the early momentum still clearly up for grabs.

Chenault didn’t just win the event. She dominated it. Winning by a full two seconds, Chenault also led a 1-2 finish for the Trojans that vaulted them to a double-digit lead and, more importantly, proved to everyone on deck that Cal’s superstars were human, beatable.

That victory started off a streak of 5 straight wins for USC, and by the first diving break, things were already getting out of hand. The meet only snowballed from there on for the Trojans, eventually culminating in a 61-point win that has to lead to some radical re-examination of mid-season rankings.

Though Chenault’s time of 1:46.84 is hardly a headline-grabber, it was truly a HardCore swim because of the huge moment in which it came, and the gigantic upset it instigated.

So consider this week’s HardCore Swim a tribute to an outstanding weekend of intense aquatic action that highlighted swimming as a team sport, an honor to the team that pulled an upset that got us all talking, but most of all, a recognition of a little-talked-about swim that had a gargantuan impact on the course of a major conference rivalry meet.

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Good call. A dominant swim that stuck a decisive blow to Cal’s psyche early on. Chenault came back the next day against Stanford with another gritty swim in the same event to touch out another Olympian, Lia Neal. She is undaunted and headed for great things next month.


This is great to see. Congratulations Chelsea!


May want to change “Cal Olympian, Liz Pelton.” Love her, but she has not been.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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