Dave Durden and Cal Men Continue to Boost Team USA; Destin Lasco, Jack Alexy, Dare Rose Are Latest Successes

Cal head coach Dave Durden -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Dave Durden and Cal Men Continue to Boost Team USA; Destin Lasco, Jack Alexy, Dare Rose Are Latest Successes

Under head coach Dave Durden, the Cal men’s team has been one of the most successful swimming programs in the country. In Durden’s 16 season in Berkeley, his teams have captured six national championships and have not finished lower than second nationally since his second year on the job. Only the Texas men under legendary coach Eddie Resse have matched Cal’s success during that stretch. Meanwhile, Cal swimmers have filled key spots on U.S. national teams and Olympic teams year after year.

Cal graduates Ryan Murphy and Nathan Adrian have been two of the top American swimmers of the recent era, with both future Hall-of-Famers winning individual Olympic gold and leading numerous relays to the top of podiums while serving as team captains on multiple occasions. But consider the other swimmers who have qualified for the U.S. Olympic team under Durden’s leadership.

In 2016, there was Josh Prenot nearly breaking the world record in the 200 breaststroke, and he went on to win Olympic silver in Rio. Anthony Ervin recaptured his early-career sprint form on the way to 50 free Olympic gold while Jacob Pebley joined Murphy in the Olympic final of the 200 backstroke and Tom Shields made his first of two teams. Five years later, the versatile Andrew Seliskar had found a home in the 200 freestyle, qualifying for the American team in the 800 free relay, while Bryce Mefford finished fourth in the 200 back Olympic final.

Those accomplishments on the big stage have helped build further clout for the Cal program, but what happened this summer might top any previous season’s accomplishments. This year had been a different one in Berkeley as Durden took over leadership of the women’s team as well, but that did not derail the men from a national-title run in March. Three months later, three Cal men qualified for their first senior-level international meet, and all captured medals. Two of them earned unexpected individual podium finishes and then filled desperately-needed voids to help the American men to medley relay gold.


Destin Lasco — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Destin Lasco was already a star on the collegiate level, having captured two consecutive NCAA titles in the 200-yard back while breaking the American record in the 200-yard IM in a runnerup national performance this year. But after his first two years at Cal, Lasco had yet to find his niche in long course. This year, though, he found two spots on the Worlds team.

He attempted the 100 free in an attempt to grab one of six available relay spots, and he did so in impressive fashion, clocking 47.87 in prelims to cut one second off his best time before finishing fourth at night in 48.00. The next day, Lasco would clinch an individual swim at the World Championships, finishing second in the 200 back behind Murphy, the swimmer whose technique Lasco would admire from under the lane rope during his freshman year in Berkeley. Lasco ended up with a bronze medal from Worlds as a prelims relay swimmer.

Lasco’s teammate Jack Alexy had also been in the running for a 400 free relay spot at Nationals after a strong college season, but he ended up winning the 100 free to earn an individual berth before later adding a second swim in the 50 free. And in Fukuoka, Alexy overcame a poor start in the 100 free to sneak into the final before winning a surprise silver medal from lane eight, his mark of 47.31 moving him to No. 2 all-time among Americans behind Caeleb Dressel. Two days later, he clinched another silver medal in the splash-and-dash, going 21.57 to beat defending world champion Ben Proud by one hundredth.

And on the meet’s final day, Alexy filled the responsibility that Adrian held for a decade: inheriting the lead for the anchor leg of a medley relay and holding on for gold. And the swimmer who gave him that lead? Another Cal Bear, this one who was a true longshot to qualify for the team in the first place.

Sure, Dare Rose had put together a fine career through his first three years at Cal, but he had never finished higher than fourth individually at the NCAA Championships. In the 100-yard fly this year, he placed 10th, and Durden inserted Gabriel Jett for the fly leg of the 400 medley relay later that evening. But when long course season arrived, Rose had an opening and took advantage.

The consensus top-three American men in the 100 fly, Dressel, Shaine Casas and Michael Andrew, were all struggling at U.S. Nationals, and Rose had finished just behind Andrew in the 50 fly, so a confluence of unexpected circumstances made him the surprise favorite entering the 100-meter race. Indeed, the 20-year-old took advantage, getting under 51 en route to a national title, and weeks later, he was not intimidated racing against big names in Fukuoka, emerging with an individual bronze medal in the 100 fly and splitting an elite 50.13 to propel the American men in the aforementioned medley relay.

For all the international accomplishments of Cal men’s swimmers during Durden’s tenure, Rose’s bronze medal might have been the least likely just two months beforehand.


Dare Rose — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The Olympic dream is the biggest carrot attracting perspective recruits to a college program, and under Durden, Cal can advertise so many success stories, from all-time greats to timely performances that yielded a lasting legacy. Durden has proven his ability to help short course stars develop their long course skills to make international teams (Lasco) and help others make an impact internationally despite a relative lack of college swimming success (Rose).

Meanwhile, the women’s team finished a lower-than-normal 11th in the team standings in 2023 after an extremely turbulent offseason, but expect a resurgence once Durden has his chance to put a mark on the program. But in the first season of the combined team, veteran sprinter Abbey Weitzeil had one of the finest seasons in her career while returning to the World Championships level.

Durden could be named the head coach of the U.S. men’s Olympic team for next year, with Florida head coach Anthony Nesty the other lead contender for the spot. The nod would give Durden his second consecutive Games in the top spot, and few would question the decision based on simply his recent track record.

Double the scope of his responsibilities, and Durden still churned out another national-championship squad and guided three instant-impact rookies for Team USA.

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