Pac-12 Meet of the Week: Cal Women on Path of Contention

Li, Celina-5
Cal's Celina Li. Photo Courtesy: David Farr

By Dan D’Addona.

Two years removed from winning the NCAA championship, the Cal women’s swimming and diving team is at a bit of a crossroad.

After being a championship contender for a decade, the Golden Bears will have to fight to remain one — and the fight will perhaps be tougher than it ever has been.

Stanford, Georgia, Michigan, USC and Virginia are all ranked ahead of Cal and are coming off stellar seasons.

Stanford of course, nearly won the NCAA title last year and will see Olympians Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel added to the Cardinal this year, or in Manuel’s case, return to the Cardinal after a year away from college swimming dedicated to Olympic training.

It is going to be a tough team to beat, but to stay in contention, the Golden Bears also have to deal with defending national champion Georgia, and Michigan, USC and Virginia programs still in an upswing.

Cal has the tools to remain a national contender, but it is no longer a team led by Missy Franklin, Elizabeth Pelton and Rachel Bootsma — or even further back Dana Vollmer and Natalie Coughlin — that was always in the title mix.

But the Golden Bears are still loaded with talent and could still be a contender with a strong season.

Olympic medalist Kathleen Baker returns and she, along with Amy Bilquist, will continue in the path of Coughlin, Pelton, Bootsma and Franklin — as dominating backstrokers.

But it will be up to the other strokes to mold the Golden Bears into a contender.

Celina Li and Marina Garcia will be key swimmers, along with Farida Osman.

Li, Garcia and Bilquist won two races apiece in a dominating 163-88 win over Oregon State in the Pac-12 opener this weekend.

Li’s victories came in the 100 freestyle (51.19) and 500 freestyle (4:56.82), while Garcia earned victories in the 100 breaststroke (1:04.39) and 200 breaststroke (2:18.09) and Bilquist swept the 100 backstroke (54.07) and 200 backstroke (1:56.21).

The Golden Bears actually won every race, which was a good start to prove they are still a national contender.