Do the Cali Condors Have a Weakness? League Championship Within Grasp For American Franchise

Nic Fink (photo: Mike Lewis)
Nic Fink. Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS / ISL

Halfway through the grand final of the 2020 International Swimming League season in Budapest, the Cali Condors are in the lead, ahead of defending champs Energy Standard, with full control of the women’s Skins event while Energy Standard holds control of the men’s Skins.

ISL Grand Final Team Scores (after Day 1)

  1. Cali Condors 267
  2. Energy Standard 239.5
  3. London Roar 199.5
  4. LA Current 177

Even without major point scorer Melanie Margalis in the 400 free and the 200 IM, the Condors adapted the “next woman up” mentality with Hali Flickinger taking the 400 free in a 1-3 finish with Haley Anderson while Meghan Small and Beata Nelson placed second and fourth in the 200 IM. Anderson, Small and Nelson are all rookies in the ISL, showing the off-season work that General Manager Jason Lezak and head coach Jonty Skinner have done in constructing a championship team.

Beata Nelson

Beata Nelson. Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS / ISL

There is still a necessity to finish the job on Sunday, but with the way Saturday went — two world records from Caeleb Dressel, along with a world record in the women’s medley relay and an American record in the 200 breast from Nic Fink, the question has to be asked: what is the Condors’ weakness?

Heading into the semifinals and finals, the Condors biggest weaknesses laid in the men’s breaststroke and men’s IM events. They had Dressel, arguably the top swimmer in the world, and they had a stacked women’s team with Olivia SmoligaLilly King and Flickinger. But their men’s medley relays were lacking compared to their rivals from Energy Standard and the London Roar, in big part to the lack of a 55 second flat start breaststroker that those two European franchises possessed.

On Sunday though, Nic Fink stepped up to the plate to break the American record in the 200 breaststroke at 2:02.20, snagging second place when his best this season had only been at 2:04.8 for 11th overall in the league. That 2:02 was huge. It put him past LA’s Will Licon, Energy’s Ilya Shymanovich and London’s Adam Peaty. Yes, the 200 favors a guy like Fink over Shymanovich and Peaty, but when the Condors needed him most, he stepped up. And in the medley relay to conclude the session, he split a 56.30 to give the Condors third place with a 3:20.01, just 0.03 off the American record which they were eligible for.

Heading into the finals, the Condors had the slowest medley relay among the final four teams, so moving up even one spot in a meet where every point matters, it was huge momentum for the Condors. And with Energy Standard in control of the Skins race, they may choose to go with breast or back to limit Dressel’s point potential, but even with no Dressel, that still gives Fink a chance and he has been on fire this weekend for the Condors.

If there is a weakness for the Condors, it would be the men’s IM, as Gunnar Bentz and Mark Szaranek finished sixth and seventh in the 200 IM, keeping their points from the jackpot but only scored five total. If that’s their only weakness, it isn’t much in the grand scheme of things as there is no IM relay or a chance at IM Skins, so if a team can afford a weakness, then the 200 and 400 IM would be a good option.

Cali Condors Halfway There

Haley Anderson

Haley Anderson. Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS / ISL

With the addition of the jackpot rule in the ISL this season, it played into the Cali Condors’ hand. Last season, the team was top heavy in taking 16 wins of the 37 events at last year’s grand final in Vegas. In the off-season, they bolstered their roster with more depth, picking up the likes of Small, Nelson, Anderson, and Coleman Stewart.

And with the jackpot rule instated, with extra points being given to the winner if he or she can beat the field by a specific margin, they pick up extra points. And when the rule was implemented in the very first ISL meet this season, the Condors took full advantage, baffling swimming fans that thought Energy Standard would not get beat again this season. But very quickly after the Condors wiped the floor with the defending champs, the Cali team became the prohibitive favorites seemingly overnight.

And the team has not been beaten once this season. With one more session of the season to go, the Condors look poised to take the title. Does Energy Standard have the horses to win a second straight? It doesn’t look like London or LA have a team to come back and win on the second day, but crazier things have happened.

The Condors are only 27.5 points ahead of Energy Standard so it’s going to be tight on Sunday afternoon in Budapest.

The medley relay champions have both picked breaststroke tomorrow, meaning Lilly King and Nic Fink will get the call for the Cali Condors, while Benedetta PilatoAlia AtkinsonIlya Shymanovich and Adam Peaty will look to help their teams take down the Condors for the ISL final.

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