Credit to Cal as Destin Lasco, Liam Bell Lead Bears to Yet Another Top-Two Finish

Destin Lasco -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Credit to Cal as Destin Lasco, Liam Bell Lead Bears to Yet Another Top-Two Finish

The Cal men could not pull off a third consecutive national title, falling by 79 points to a dominant performance from Arizona State. It would have taken miraculous performances from the Golden Bears plus disappointing swims from ASU to make up the gap, but head coach Dave Durden’s team did finish second place, extending one of the most impressive streaks in swimming history.

At every NCAA Men’s Championships since 2010, Cal has finished first or second. That’s 14 consecutive national meets, and the streak certainly would be 15 if not for the cancellation of the 2020 championships. That is the longest streak in swimming history, ahead of Michigan’s 12 consecutive top-two finishes… from 1937 to 1948, the first 12 NCAA meets contested.

The next longest streak of two-two finishes belong to Indiana, with a streak 1968 through 1975 including Mark Spitz’s time swimming for the Hoosiers, and Texas from 2014 to 2022, concurrent with Cal’s current run. Cal, meanwhile, is so consistent in March that it has placed first or second in every season since Durden’s third campaign in Berkeley.

To earn this particular runnerup finish, Cal had to make significant time drops and come through in some big races to fend off Florida and Indiana. Cal ended up 66.5 points clear of the Gators, but the margin would have been half that had Florida not been disqualified in the 400 medley relay. But Cal’s four swimmers who had skipped the Pac-12 Championships to concentrate on long course and their pushes for Olympic Trials, and each showed up in a major way while Liam Bell won a national title in the 100 breaststroke that few would have expected before the Pac-12 meet.


Jack Alexy — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The effort began when Cal jumped from the sixth seed to first place in the 800 freestyle relayDestin Lasco split 1:29.60 on the second leg while Gabriel Jett and Jack Alexy bracketed Lasco with 1:30s. A day later, Lasco became the second man ever under 1:38 in the 200 IM and set an American record on the way to victory, scoring an upset over ASU’s Hubert Kos. Bell, meanwhile, took down the American and NCAA records in the 100 breast on day three before Lasco won again in the 200 backstroke, once again in record time and once again in upset fashion as he knocked off 200-meter back world champion Kos.

In addition to Cal’s success in college meets, Durden has produced a bevy of stars over the years that have carried the United States in international competition, with individual Olympic champions Nathan Adrian and Ryan Murphy the most prominent names on that list. Last year, Lasco, Alexy and Dare Rose became the latest international qualifiers with all racing multiple events at the World Championships and winning at least one medal apiece. With the NCAA season a side focus amid the clear Paris target, all three had the best college performances of their careers.

In addition to Lasco’s titles, Alexy finished second in the 200 free (1:29.75) and third in both the 50 free (18.38) and 100 free (40.59). His times in the sprint events were several tenths quicker than he swam in 2023, months before he won silver medals in both the 50-meter and 100-meter free at the World Championships. Alexy went from not even swimming the 200 free last season to dropping three seconds from his best time and moving to No. 7 all-time in Indianapolis, a great sign for his improvement in the long course 100-meter race.

Finally, Rose swam best times in both butterfly events this season, jumping from 44.75 to 44.52 in the 100 fly this year and 1:39.89 to 1:38.69 in the 200 fly. His short course skills have not lived up to his long course breakout from 2023, when he earned a World Championships bronze medal in the 100-meter fly, but like Lasco and Alexy, Rose is clearly pointed in the right direction for another long course season.

As for Bell, if you didn’t see his success coming, you were not alone. The fifth-year swimmer jumped from sixth in the 100 breast and 27th in the 200 breast to first and fourth, respectively, this year. While Jett did not match his standard of success from last season, he still qualified for three individual A-finals while Bjorn Seeliger and Matt Jensen provided support in the sprints. Cal even got rare diving contributions from Geoffrey Vavitsas and Joshua Thai.

Over the past decade-and-a-half, plenty has changed for the Golden Bears. Just in the past two years, Durden has taken over leadership of the women’s program as well while turning over his entire staff. David Marsh has been with Cal for just over two years while associate head coach Josh Huger and assistants Kim Williams and Noah Yanchulis are all in their first seasons in Berkeley.

But when it matters most in March, Cal continues to come through with a complete team effort, once again performing at peak capabilities with a continuing historic streak to show for it.

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