The Stanford women’s swimming and diving team has established itself as the team to beat in the Pac-10, with big wins over No. 9 Southern California and No. 2 Arizona. Only one obstacle remains for the No. 4 Cardina
l (8-0, 4-0 Pac-10) to earn a second consecutive undefeated season: its meet this weekend on the Farm against No. 5 California (5-1, 3-1).
While the swimmers’ current focus is on the dual meet, these results will have little bearing on the postseason. Last year, Stanford defeated Cal 169-129 in Berkeley, but the Golden Bears went on to claim the Pac-10 and NCAA championships while the Cardinal finished in third and fourth place at those meets, respectively. Indeed, Stanford has been unable to win the Pac-10 Tournament despite defeating the Golden Bears in the Big Meet the last three years in a row.
“I think we’re really looking toward Pac-10s and NCAAs,” said head coach Lea Maurer. “[The meet] will give me a lot of insight that I need to do a lot in the next week and a half to get ready.”
This year, the Cardinal appears to be stronger and poised to make a run at both titles. It has cruised past its conference competition — its signature win came on Jan. 22 against Arizona, when it defeated the Wildcats 173-125. By contrast, Cal has struggled against these teams. It defeated Arizona 165-134, but fell to USC 147-153.
In the meet, the Cardinal will look to the trio of senior Julia Smit, senior Elaine Breeden and junior Kate Dwelley to provide the firepower necessary to overcome Cal. Smit is the world record holder in both the 200- and 400-meter individual medley, and she will try to claim victory in both events for the Cardinal. She also currently holds the top times in the nation at both distances.
After outdueling USC’s Katinka Hosszu, a Hungarian Olympian, in the 200-yard butterfly, Breeden will face another stiff challenge this weekend from Cal’s Amanda Sims. Breeden is the defending NCAA champion in the 200 fly while Sims won last year’s 100 fly championship; they will clash in both events this weekend.
This weekend, it will be Dwelley’s turn to take on an Olympic medalist. Cal’s Sara Isakovic took home a silver medal from the Olympics in the 200-meter freestyle while competing for Slovenia. She currently holds the second-best time in the nation in the 200-yard free. Dwelley currently leads the Cardinal in the 100 and 200 free, although her season best of 1 minute, 45.32 seconds in the 200 lags behind Isakovic’s season best of 1:44.95.
Indeed, the short freestyle distances (50, 100 and 200 yards) are all expected to be very closely contested. In addition to Dwelley, sophomores Betsy Webb and Sam Woodward will lead the Cardinal.
“There’s obviously going to be heightened tension because they’re our rival,” Woodward said. “It’ll be a really good warm-up meet for the postseason.”
“Cal’s always a tough competitor,” Maurer said. “On paper, I think it’s going to come down to four points and we lose both relays.”
After the Big Meet, Stanford will only have its two postseason meets remaining. While the Card may appear to be the favorite, especially if it is able to defeat Cal, Maurer does not share that view.
“Cal is the NCAA champion, Arizona was third last year and we were fourth,” she said. “They are the defending champion and they were ahead of us both last year and at NCAAs. I think we are underdogs, but we’re hungry.”
With a win on Saturday, Stanford would build momentum for the postseason, as well as cement a third undefeated dual meet season in the past four years. Current Cardinal seniors have only lost one dual meet in their entire careers on the Farm.
“It’s definitely a linear progression, from Cal to Pac-10s to NCAAs,” Woodward said. “I’m looking to see where I’m at and then make adjustments from there.”
“We are totally committed to the good of the group, and individual goals are only relevant in terms of how many points we can put on the board,” Maurer added.
Stanford will take on the Golden Bears this Saturday at 1 p.m. at Avery Aquatics Center.