Ryan Hoffer, Cal Golden Bears Need Points of All Sizes on Final Day to Catch Texas

ryan hoffer, california golden bears, 2021 men's ncaa swimming championships
Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

Cal’s Ryan Hoffer embraces the rivalry and the heavyweight battle the Golden Bears are in with Texas.

For every Cal punch so far, Texas has had a counter punch, leading to an extremely close meet heading into the final day, with the Bears trailing the Longhorns, 414-372.

“It is really fun. It lights a fire beneath us and gets us going. We expect these things of Texas. But we try to focus on ourselves and improving our seeds and how much better we can do. That has been our mentality — let’s do everything in our power,” Ryan Hoffer said.

Hoffer so far has done everything in his power. He defended his title in the 50 freestyle and helped the Bears win the sprint relay on Thursday. On Friday, he continued his stellar meet by winning the 100 butterfly in 44.25. It was a huge moment for Cal in the middle of the showdown, where every point counts.

“What I am doing right now is for the team. That ‘W’ brings us one step closer and that makes me even more happy,” Hoffer said.

Hoffer was focused on the 50 free heading into the meet and it paid off as he became the second-fastest performer in history. The swim might have stunned a lot of people, but not Hoffer — it is what he had been aiming toward for years.

“It is something I had been thinking about doing for a long time now. I guess going into that 50, I don’t want to seem heavy-handed, but it is kind of what I was expecting. Seeing that times means a lot. I did what I needed to do and that is what I am so happy about,” Hoffer said. “Mentality-wise it was a little different for me. This entire season I have been working on my front half, that first 25 off the start. I was trying to hit an 8-mid to the feet. Prelims come along and I go out 9.0. Over the last week, I haven’t been able to get under 9 to the feet, which is usually a good marker for me to tell where I am at. But come to find out that my back-half speed was there and I was able to come back faster than I ever have. It wasn’t what I was planning on, but it was what happened.”

That gave Hoffer momentum heading into Friday. He was the favorite in the 50 free, but not necessarily in the 100 fly — at least before Friday’s prelims. He put together the ninth-fastest time in history making him the fifth-fastest performer at 44.24. It got him the top seed and he hung on and claimed his second NCAA title of the meet.

“I was pretty excited about (the fly) because I was feeling pretty achy this morning after that triple, in terms of races, so coming in a little groggy and achy is something I expected, but I was able to push through that and that got me more excited because I knew I had more,” Ryan Hoffer said. “I definitely learned how to manage (the nerves). I almost look forward to the nerves because I feel like it gives me that extra pop where I need something more. It is that fuzzy feeling going into the water. It is what makes the race, the race. It makes a good race feel that much better. Being able to come out on top, I mean there are a lot of nerves there … I am trying to defend my title (in the 50). Being able to succeed and get over those nerves is a big step forward for our swimming.”

Hoffer knows it is not just victories that bring points. He has watched his teammates pick up points in little chunks, too, which add up.

“It is a big swing for us and we can really take those small points and they play into the bigger picture,” Hoffer said. “My sophomore year when we won, we had Carson Sand in the 200 breast and he was able to squeeze into that B final, which was unexpected. It really got us excited about that kind of swim and that really helped us moving forward. It is momentum, but really the consistent process of how we are approaching the meet.”

The important thing for the Golden Bears is that, big points or small points, they are all feeding off of each other’s races and will need to do that in a big way on Saturday morning.

“We really do miss our fans getting to witness all of that. But this is not out of the norm for us. We have been handling situations like this all year. We haven’t had any spectators at any of our dual meets, we have been basically shut ins trying to do what we can to perform in the water,” Ryan Hoffer said. We wish they were there, but we don’t need it. We thrive off of our team’s performances. Having that kind of flexibility in this kind of environment makes us dangerous.”

It will take a dangerous performance in the prelims for the Golden Bears to repeat as NCAA champions.