Bears Look Relaxed as National Title Defense Begins

Photo: <b>Courtney Eronemo</b> and the Cal women's swimming team won the NCAA title in 2009. Then a junior, Eronemo earned 16th place in the 200-yard butterfly at the Pac-10 championships.
Justin Gonzaga/File
Courtney Eronemo and the Cal women's swimming team won the NCAA title in 2009. Then a junior, Eronemo earned 16th place in the 200-yard butterfly at the Pac-10 championships.

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Sizing up the competition for the first home meet against Pacific looks different through the eyes of the Cal women's swimming team.

Considering consistent previous success against the Tigers, it looked like Tuesday's practice was not of the grueling intensity that would be expected of defending national champions.

Coach Teri McKeever appeared relaxed as she gave instructions to the swimmers who congregated for warm-ups, and she had only occasional corrections as she passed the lanes. Last year, the Bears trumped Pacific, 147.5-103.5, and by the look of this week's practice, it still seems like there isn't much to be worked up about in this year's contest against the Tigers.

"I am excited to see what they can do for their first home meet," assistant coach Kristen Lewis-Cunnane said. "The team looks a lot different this year and coming off a national championship to have so many new faces just forces us to approach the season in a different way."

Losing the 2009 Honda Player of the Year, Dana Vollmer, leaves a space for a different leader to prove herself and a new dynamic for the team itself.

Some leaders have already emerged, as evidenced by last week's season kickoff at Cal Poly. The Bears swept the top four with freshman Caitlin Leverenz and returning swimmers Sara Isakovic, Erica Dagg and Shelley Harper.

"The girls came out so fired up and usually the first dual meet is a little rough, but I thought they did an awesome job," Lewis-Cunnane said.

The returning talent for the team mostly rests with the seniors, and their leadership on the team is well-noted.

"Our captains are Lauren Boyle and Blake Hayter, and they tend to solve problems before they even come up, which is really nice," Lewis-Cunnane said.

Boyle, a New Zealand native, won honorable mention All-America honors after her 11th-place performance in the 500-yard free at the 2009 NCAA Championships. Hayter posted a personal record of 4:41.81 in the 500 free at the NCAAs.

Courtney Eronemo, the senior who finished 16th overall in the 200-yard butterfly at last year's Pac-10 Championships, is looking forward to using the momentum from last year's success to "see how that is going to carry over into this year."

With some swimmers starting their last season at Cal, others are just testing the waters at the beginning of their collegiate careers, like freshmen hopefuls Leverenz, Laura Evans and Samantha Pearson.

"I am excited for the freshmen to have their first dual meet. This (coming weekend) is the first run of the team competing together," Eronemo said.

As far as projecting the season's main contenders, both Stanford and USC are looking to put some competition on the blocks. The Trojans, McKeever's alma mater, are expected to garner a good contest and incite an exciting rivalry.

Where the real challenge lies is in the hopes of defending the NCAA Championship title that the women celebrated for the first time in Cal history last season.

"Winning gave us a taste of what it's like, and it definitely made us hungry," Lewis-Cunnane said. "I think, though, that it is important to just take things day by day and not focus on the end, just on the process."


Contact Kelly Suckow at [email protected]

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