For Bears, Title Defense Comes to a Boil in National Championships at Purdue

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NCAA Swimming Championships Preview

Kelly Suckow previews the Bears' trip to Purdue University for the NCAA Swimming Championships

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Walking around with a target on your back is not an ideal situation.

All eyes are on you, performance expectations are high and the pressure is on.

The Cal women's swimming team definitely has a target on its back going into the NCAA championships, which begin today in West Lafayette, Ind., after winning its first-ever NCAA title last year in Texas.

Then again, one needs to consider the logistics: this is a different year, a different team and different facilities.

"We talked about it," senior NCAA-qualifier Blake Hayter said. "We are trying not to make it like last year because it is not going to be the exact same."

Hayter, who is also a co-captain, qualified for the 500-yard freestyle, the 1,650-yard freestyle and the 200-yard freestyle for the meet.

Among the 12 Bears swimmers invited to the NCAAs is senior Heather White. The East Bay native holds the second-fastest time in Cal history for the 400-yard individual medley behind freshman Caitlin Leverenz. This year's championship marks White's last shot of her college career.

"It is kinda scary knowing I'm going to be done after this," White said. "I'm looking forward to putting my heart into the team."

It is up to the entire team to dictate what it wants out of the meet to close the book on this year's season.

Coming off of a second-place finish behind Stanford at this year's Pac-10 championships, the Bears will face the strongest competitors in the nation.

All-America speedsters Julia Smit and Elaine Breeden are expected to set the pace for Stanford. The Pac-10 winner holds eight of the country's best times in 15 events. This season's successes have earned the Cardinal the top spot in the nation thus far.

One event expected to turn heads will be the 100-yard butterfly, where Amanda Sims-Cal's NCAA-title defender-will face off with Breeden, who took second last year.

"It should be an exciting and competitive championship," Cardinal head coach Lea Maurer said. "Cal had a phenomenal meet last year. They are always a tough team, and we looking forward to swimming against them over the next few days."

One team that is weighing to contend against both Stanford and Cal is Georgia. After dominating in the Southeastern Conference championships, the Bulldogs boast arguably the best roster of athletes. Georgia, which will carry the maximum of 18 athletes, is led by sophomores Wendy Trott and Allison Schmitt.

Stanford's national prominence and Georgia's impressive depth are weapons at this year's performance.

"To some extent we know where the other teams stand," White said. "In order to compete, we have to focus on ourselves and what we can do and everything will take care of itself."


Contact Kelly Suckow at [email protected]

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