Different Strokes Made for Different Expectations This Season

Photo: The Bears couldn't rely on individual performers like they did last year but still finished in third place at the NCAAs to end the season.
Justin Gonzaga/File
The Bears couldn't rely on individual performers like they did last year but still finished in third place at the NCAAs to end the season.

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2009 was a different year. The Cal women's swimming team knew that it wasn't about repeating as national champions. It was about stepping away from 2009 to make the best of 2010.

And it was a different year.

"Our main goal was to make this year its own year," assistant coach Kristen Lewis-Cunnane said. "We were not trying to repeat results. We just wanted to do our best and see what this Cal team was capable of."

This was a different team--one marked by fewer dominating individuals--and it achieved a different result, a third place finish in the NCAA championships.

"This year has been about putting the pieces together," sophomore Liv Jensen said.

"Last year we lost integral parts of the team, and this year we had some really strong parts that we needed to meld into everything."

Those losses included Dana Vollmer and Madison Kennedy, who were among the elite swimmers in 2009. So it was up to both the returning and the fresh talent to fill the large voids and push to make this season successful.

Instead of resting success in one or two swimmers dominating the top spots, the team relied on its ability to pack as many of the swimmers in point-earning positions.

Part of this new dynamic was some of the Bears stepping out of their normal roles and stepping up to the blocks with greater expectations.

Junior Hannah Wilson's new role on the team this season exemplified this.

"We had to use Hannah at the maximum number of relays," Lewis-Cunnane said. "She really had to carry the torch in the relays this season."

Wilson's efforts to push herself to a new level culminated in her performances at the Pac-10 and NCAA championships.

The Hong Kong native won the 100-freeestyle that earned her the Pac-10 title. At the NCAA championships, Wilson was one leg in the 400-yard medley relay final, along with Sara Isakovic, Erica Dagg and Jensen. The quartet ended up with a second place finish-less than half a second behind Stanford.

Jensen asserted her strength as a younger swimmer on the team with her national title win at the NCAAs in the 50-freestyle, an event that does not normally see a freshman or sophomore come out on top.

"Going into the race, I knew I had a shot and knew it was going to be close," Jensen said. "I was standing behind the blocks and I just thought to myself, 'I want this more than any of these other girls.'"

Jensen's win may have been the only national title that Cal took home this year and Florida may have toppled the Bears from their spot as the defending national champions, but the team still managed to turn heads with its third place finish.

"No one expected us to be in the top five," Isakovic said. "Everyone said that Georgia was going to win too. Last year, we surprised everyone and won. This year we proved that we are still in the game."

Tracing the journey of the team that ended its dual season at five wins and two losses, saw outstanding performances from freshman Caitlin Leverenz, traveled to Hawaii for winter training and beat Arizona, the end product is truly a testament of an effort to defy expectations.

"We do what we need to do and we do it our way," Wilson said. "And we stay true to that."


Contact Kelly Suckow at [email protected]

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