After two weeks of anticipation, the Big Meet was somewhat anticlimactic. No. 4 Stanford and No. 5 California were expected to wage a close, back-and-forth battle. Instead, the Cardinal (9-0, 5-0 Pac-10) thoroughly dominated its Bay Area rival, winning the meet by a final score of 167-131.
While Cal (5-2, 3-2) is the defending national champion, it came into Saturday’s meet with a weaker record than the Cardinal. The Golden Bears had also lost a meet two weeks ago against No. 9 Southern California, a team that Stanford later defeated by a wide margin.
At the start, the meet looked set to be a tight affair, with Stanford holding a slim six-point lead halfway through the meet. The Cardinal notched a big win in the 200-yard freestyle when Stanford senior Julia Smit beat Cal’s Sara Isakovic by more than a second. Isakovic won a silver medal in the 200-meter free in the 2008 Olympics.
The 100-yard breaststroke was also closely contested, with junior Liz Smith dueling Cal’s Caitlin Leverenz. The meet came down to the final touch-out, with Leverenz beating Smith by a .02-second margin. The Bears also took the 50 free in a similarly close fashion, with Liv Jensen out-touching junior Kate Dwelley by .14 seconds.
“Liv and I have been swimming against each other for a long time and she tends to be better at the shorter things,” Dwelley said. “With more rest, I think I’ll be able to go faster [in the postseason].”
When asked if she was worried when Cal took an early lead, head coach Lea Maurer responded, “A little bit. I wouldn’t want to change my preparation, but I did think that we were good but not great. I thought that we had to find a way at the end of our races to get a few touch-outs . . . the close ones weren’t going our way.”
After a short break, the teams returned to the pool for the 100 free, which culminated in another close finish. Dwelley won the race by .03 seconds over freshman teammate Andi Murez and by .25 seconds over Jensen. From there, the Cardinal only lost one more event en route to the victory.
The biggest upset of the afternoon came in the 500 free. Two Cal standouts, Isakovic and Lauren Boyle, came in as favorites and were poised to grab the momentum back from Stanford. Instead, freshman Natalie Durant swam a career-best 4:45.17 from the second lane to win the race by nearly a second over junior teammate Kelsey Ditto. While Isakovic held the lead for the first half of the race, Durant powered back in the second half to draw even with 200 yards left, and finally grab the lead in the final 150 yards.
“It came as a surprise,” Durant said. “I wasn’t even sure during the race until the last bell whether I was winning or not. I was just trying to beat the girl next to me.”
“I was actually a bit worried that I’d miscounted,” she continued. “I was just trying to focus on getting to the end of the race.”
In their last meet at Stanford, Smit and fellow senior Elaine Breeden did not fail to impress. Smit won the 200 free, the 200-yard backstroke and the 200-yard individual medley while Breeden took the 100- and 200-yard butterfly.
With the win, Stanford also sealed its second consecutive undefeated dual-meet season and its third in four years. In that span, Maurer’s squad has gone 46-1 in dual meets. While this is a significant achievement, the Cardinal’s primary focus remains on the postseason tournaments. Indeed, despite last year’s undefeated record — which included a road victory over Cal — Stanford only managed to finish fourth at the NCAA tournament.
“We’re just trying to go in with a great attitude with the team,” Durant said. “The team’s been doing absolutely fantastic this season and I’m really excited to see what we can do in the coming meets.”
Maurer said that her current plan is to rest the team so it can be fully prepared for the Pac-10 tournament, which will begin on Feb. 24 in Long Beach, Calif.
“I’m more confident about their tenacity,” she said. “You talk all the time about digging deep and finding a way, but it comes down to execution. I’ll lead them to the last 15 meters or to the races and then they’ve got to find a way — and they found a way today. If they keep doing what they did today in terms of swimming with a lot of heart and not over-thinking things, we’ll be dangerous.”
“We need to just carry what we have and not change our mindset,” Dwelley added. “We need to go at it with the same fight and intensity as when we’re tired.”