Cal's Championship Run Beats All Else

Photo: Nathan Adrian took national titles in the 50 free, 100 free and 400 free relay to help Cal to its first NCAA Championship since 1980.
Shannon Hamilton/Staff
Nathan Adrian took national titles in the 50 free, 100 free and 400 free relay to help Cal to its first NCAA Championship since 1980.

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When a team loses to its conference rival twice in one year, most people would consider it to be somewhat of a disappointing season.

Unless that same season eventually culminates in a national championship.

For the Cal men's swimming team, dual meet and conference championship losses to Stanford are mere afterthoughts from a season resulting in the team's first NCAA title since 1980.

The Bears' run at a national title didn't necessarily start at the beginning of the 2010-11 season but rather at the conclusion of the 2010 NCAA championships, when the swimmers had to watch Texas overtake them on the leader boards to win the crown.

"You hate to say, 'That could be us right there,'" senior Josh Daniels said. "You never want to feel that way. It motivates you to be better next year."

With images of "hook 'em horns" etched into their minds, the Bears started out their quest for redemption on a high note, highlighted by a third-place finish at the Short Course Nationals and emphatic wins over then-No. 2 Arizona and then-No. 8 USC, which would have been little consolation if a national title run hadn't materialized. But when Cal fell to Stanford twice in 14 days, some questioned its legitimacy as a national title contender.

Despite winning nine of 18 events at the Pac-10 Championships, the Bears had to settle for second place and witness the Cardinal celebrate its 30th consecutive conference title.

Though it may have stung, Cal knew there was something more important on the horizon.

"All year long, our expectations, hopes and goals have been geared towards NCAAs," senior Nathan Adrian said following the loss.

It might have initially sounded a bit like a cop out, but the 11-time NCAA champion backed up his word.

The regular season was not an accurate indicator of the capabilities, as the Bears peaked at just the right time of year - which is just the way they planned. This time around, they were the ones who got the last laugh at the NCAA championships.

And they certainly were laughing.

"I've been a part of national titles that have just been a chore," coach David Durden said. "It's not about winning. It's getting a group of guys together, having a good time and swimming fast."

That isn't to say winning the title was easy, as Durden and his squad had to "nickel and dime" together a championship performance. Cal's winning point total (493) was the lowest since Auburn won in 2006 with 480.5 points. The Bears' 22.5-point advantage over second-place Texas was the slimmest title margin since the Longhorns edged out Stanford by 11 points in 2002.

However, that is more a testament to the strength of the rest of the NCAA field. The championship meet was one of the fastest in recent history, and featured seven new NCAA and pool records.

Looking forward, Cal will now try to replace a senior class that produced eight individual NCAA titles and contributed to seven relay crowns in its four years in Berkeley. With six high school national standouts having signed letters of intent, the Bears are more than on their way to refueling for another run in 2012.

"It's tough to replace a group of seniors that we have," Adrian said. "I think (the coaches) did an amazing job doing that now and I don't think they'll be hurting at all from it next year."

With that in mind, 2011 could mark the beginning of a long reign atop the swimming world for the Bears.


Connor Byrne covers men's swimming. Contact him at [email protected]

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