Commentary: Cal Poly Pentathlon Is An Excellent Way to Start a College Swimming Season

Commentary by Jeff Commings

SAN LUIS OBISPO, California, September 19. A few top college swim teams will officially kick off the new season with their first meet of the season this weekend, but none will likely be as closely watched as the Cal Poly Invitational.

This meet is always a big deal for the Golden Bears, but tomorrow will carry major significance, as Olympic champion Missy Franklin makes her collegiate competition debut in what could be viewed as a glorified intrasquad meet on Cal Poly’s campus.

The meet consists of 100 yards of each stroke and a 100 individual medley. The male and female with the fastest combined times are crowned King and Queen of the Pool. It’s a title Marcin Tarczynski has won since the first pentathlon in 2010 and could make it a four-year sweep. The women started the Queen of the Pool tradition in 2009, and Caitlin Leverenz won the first three editions before being dethroned by freshman Rachel Bootsma last year.

Bootsma will be tough to beat this year, but if anyone can do it, Franklin has the opportunity. On paper, Franklin is only faster than Bootsma in the 100 free, and the wild card might be the 100 breaststroke. It’s difficult to say which of them is faster, since neither of them races the event in a championship meet. But Bootsma posted a 1:06.77 last year, and Franklin could pull off a time faster than that, especially with all the work she had been doing this summer with Todd Schmitz to try and find improvement points in her 200 IM.

Elizabeth Pelton is also one to watch in this meet. She’s a great individual medley swimmer, seeded fifth at U.S. nationals last summer before scratching finals. Like Bootsma and Franklin, her weakness is breaststroke.

It’s hard to figure how fast these three will go, since they are a little more than a month removed from competing at the world championships. Are they in sufficient racing shape, and have the start of classes taken a little bit of the edge off this early in the season?

Tarczynski will also have a tough time repeating as pentathlon champion. He’s got freshman Ryan Murphy ready to prove his worth on the Cal team, and Murphy is dangerous in all four strokes, thanks to his years at the Bolles School. Remember that he swam the fastest 100 back in high school history last year and briefly had the independent high school record in the 100 free. He’ll need all four strokes to beat Tarczynski, who is the 2012 NCAA champion in the 200 IM, and Josh Prenot, an NCAA finalist last season in both IMs.

The sleeper could be Will Hamilton, who was second in the pentathlon rankings last year.

The times in the Cal Poly Invitational are usually not very noteworthy, but this is the type of competition that likely gets the Golden Bears excited about the season. I’m sure Bootsma and Tarczynski have enjoyed their reigns as Queen and King of the Pool, and it’s a fun way to kick off the season. Other teams participate in these types of races, but without issuing press releases, and often done in a training session with no electronic timing or stroke judges. Perhaps all the NCAA conferences should consider running a pentathlon to open the collegiate season, offering each school an early look at their competition, and creating a relatively low-key environment for college athletes to get into the season. If professional football can get so much attention to its preseason games, why can’t swimming fans have their own version of a preseason meet? The “(Insert conference here) King and Queen of the Pool Pentathlon” could be that meet.