Cal Capitalized on the 'Up' in Up-and-Down Season

Photo: Sophomore Hannah Wilson anchored the Bears' record-shattering and title-winning 400-yard free relay team at the NCAA championships.
Justin Gonzaga/File
Sophomore Hannah Wilson anchored the Bears' record-shattering and title-winning 400-yard free relay team at the NCAA championships.

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The Cal women's swimming team shocked the swimming world on March 21 by capping off a rocky season with its first-ever Pac-10 and NCAA championship meet titles.

The Bears, who struggled to find their identity for the first four months of the 2008-09 campaign, finally hit their stride when it mattered most.

"For a while, we really didn't know who we were and where we stood among the best teams," freshman Sara Isakovic said. "It's hard to compete when you don't know what your team is about, but we figured that out at the right time."

Through the ups and downs, one Cal swimmer showed up consistently day in and day out. Senior Dana Vollmer, recently named 2009 NCAA Swimmer of the Year, led the Bears (4-4, 3-3 in the Pac-10) in and out of the pool all season long.

"I was so happy to be able to get to know Dana this year," sophomore Hannah Wilson said. "She's not only incredible in the pool, but she's also a great friend and an inspiration. I got to room with her at the Pac-10's and learned so much from her. It was really an honor to be able to compete in relays with her this year."

Vollmer will leave Cal with individual NCAA titles in the 100-yard freestyle, 200-yard free and 200-yard butterfly. She also helped the Bears capture titles in the 400-free relay and the 800-free relay.

Following the conclusion of the season, Vollmer added to her resume by being nominated for the 2008-09 Honda Sports Award, which recognizes the top female collegiate swimmer.

"Dana helped our team throughout the year and was so valuable in so many ways," Wilson said. "Although her skill in the pool was an inspiration, she really contributed more than that."

Along with Vollmer, head coach Teri McKeever was also honored as the NCAA Coach of the Year.

In her first 17 years coaching at Cal, McKeever had never been nominated for Coach of the Year. She is the first female to be credited with the NCAA swimming team title.

"I think Teri has done an amazing job this year," Wilson said. "At the Pac-10's we didn't know where we stood. We had lost a couple of dual meets, and she did a great job staying positive and making sure the team raced for what we believed in. She knows each one of us on a personal level and that makes swimming for Cal that much more special."

Although the Bears struggled in dual races all year, they were able to find ways to compete steadily in championship meets. Cal won three out of the four championship meets in which it participated and earned a second-place finish at the Georgia Invitational in early December.

"I think our team has so much depth and it isn't just based on one or two swimmers," Wilson said. "Everyone put in the same effort. At the Pac-10's everyone who was eligible to score, scored. While dual meets are a lot of fun and competitive, championship meets are more important and speak more to our team as a whole."

Depth seemed to play a significant role in the Bears' eventual triumph. And the future looks bright, as they will be graduating only five seniors over the offseason and returning 15 swimmers who helped them take home their first NCAA championship in College Station, Texas.

"I really enjoyed this year's seniors," Wilson said. "They were a great bunch of girls and I was so happy to be able to get close to them as a sophomore. Each year is so different and I'm confident that next year's seniors will be just as great.

"We have three swimmers coming in, and we have the top recruit (in Mary Beck). It's great because she swims the events that Cal isn't known for, so I know she'll be a big help."


Contact Danny Freisinger at [email protected]

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