Texas and Cal Men Set for Rare Midseason Battle at Minnesota Invitational

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Hugo Gonazlez (left) and Bjorn Seeliger will lead the California Golden Bears against Texas at the Minnesota Invitational -- Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

Texas and Cal Men Set for Rare Midseason Battle at Minnesota Invitational

Over the past decade, the Texas and California men’s teams have dominated college swimming. Those two programs have finished first and second in some order at the last seven NCAA championships and 10 of the last 11. The Texas-Cal rivalry is real and exciting — but friendly, as is often the case in swimming, since Texas and Cal swimmers frequently swim together as representatives of the U.S. national team. But over the years, the rivalry has been confined to the NCAA Championships.

This year, however, we get an early preview. Texas and Cal are set to meet in a midseason invitational this week at the University of Minnesota. The Longhorns have traditionally hosted their own invite the weekend after Thanksgiving, while the Golden Bears have attended various meets, often the Georgia Invitational in recent years. Instead, both teams are heading north less than nine months after Texas beat Cal by just 27 points for the national title. That was close but somehow just the third-closest of the many Texas-Cal 1-2 finishes over the years.

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Texas sophomore Carson Foster has developed into one of the world’s best IMers — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Most of the Texas stars from last year’s national-title winning team are back. That includes Carson Foster, who narrowly missed the U.S. Olympic team but finished the long course season with the world’s fastest time in the 400-meter IM. Foster admitted that he may not swim a full schedule in Minnesota as he tunes up for the Short Course World Championships, but Foster has been awesome early on in his sophomore campaign.

Texas also welcomes Drew Kibler back after Kibler swam on the U.S. men’s 800 free relay at the Tokyo Olympics. Fellow freestyle Danny Krueger is always strong in the sprint events, and Caspar Corbeau is a force in the breaststrokes. Foster’s older brother Jake, IMer Braden Vines and distance swimmer David Johnston are part of Texas’ core, and Alvin Jiang is back for a fifth year to continue his significant relay contributions. Watch for sophomore Coby Carrozza to make a leap after a strong fall of dual meets.

But the Longhorns’ X-factor is diving. Last season, Texas’ only wins at the NCAA Championships were in relays (800 free and 400 medley) and in diving from Olympian Jordan Windle. Texas scored 82 total points in diving, so the Bears out-scored Texas in swimming by 55 — and that’s not the first time that Cal has missed out on a national title despite having the country’s top group of swimmers.

This season, the Bears lose sprint star Ryan Hoffer, their only NCAA individual champion last season (a three-time winner, in fact), but Bjorn Seeliger had success in the sprints as a freshman and should be ready to step in. Cal brings back Olympic finalist Hugo Gonzalez as an NCAA-title contender in multiple events, and Daniel Carr and Destin Lasco will each contend in the backstrokes, as will Reece Whitley in breaststroke. However, 200 back Olympic finalist Bryce Mefford is currently not on Cal’s roster despite being eligible for a fifth year, so it’s unclear if Mefford will compete for the college team this year.

Of course, no championships will be decided this weekend in Minneapolis, and midseason results don’t tell the full picture about a team’s potential. Legendary coaches Eddie Reese (Texas) and Dave Durden (Cal) each have a plan for their teams, and no college coaches have been more successful at having their teams ready for the end of the season, when the results really matter.

Still, enjoy the chance to see the Longhorns and the Bears go head-to-head. The weekend before Thanksgiving, the consensus top-two women’s programs in college swimming, Virginia and Stanford, competed at midseason invitationals separated by just 300 miles on I-40. That’s close, especially for two teams from opposite sides of the country, but the top men’s teams in the same pool in December should be a treat for swimming fans.