In Spite of Deep Talent Pool, Pac-10 Won't Be Easy To Tread

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Olympic gold medalists. NCAA record-holders. The top sprinters in the country.

Even with a team of the best, it's not going to be easy.

The Cal men's swimming team opens up Pac-10 competition Jan. 25 and 26 against Arizona State and Arizona, and it'll likely be the fastest weekend in the country to date. And it just gets tougher from there.

The Pac-10 features some of the strongest programs in the country, most notably No. 8 Arizona, No. 5 Arizona State, No. 10 USC, and No. 1 Stanford.

"Everybody in the Pac-10 is loaded," Cal head coach Nort Thornton said. "We can be damn good and not win another meet."

With a 2-1 dual-meet record going into the Pac-10 schedule, the Bears are ranked fifth in the country.

Cal has already faced some of the nation's best, including a showdown with defending national champion Texas. The Bears nearly toppled the Longhorns, but fell short by 14 points, 162-148.

This year's squad is made up of a strong core of returning athletes complemented by a talented squad of recruits. Cal returns five All-Americans-seniors Matt Macedo, Peter Aronsson and Maciej Burny, and junior Frank Uxa and sophomore Alex Lim.

Juniors Joe Bruckart, Trent Holsman, and Daniel Kim also come back for the Bears after competing on Cal's 2001 NCAA team.

The most notable talent practicing in Spieker Pool is junior Anthony Ervin, one of the world's top sprinters and a gold medalist at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Ervin spent his summer raking in more gold medals and claiming the world championship in both the 50- and 100-meter freestyle at the World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan.

New to the team are senior Matthias Ohlin, a senior transfer from Louisiana State and member of the Swedish National Team, and freshman Duje Draganja, a top sprinter from Split, Croatia.

Sprint freestyle is far and away the squad's biggest strength, but the team fields strong butterfliers and backstrokers and features a talented core of breaststrokers.

Ervin leads the sprint end of things but the team is bolstered by the sheer speed of Macedo, Uxa, Burny, Holsman, and Draganja.

Burny will also team with junior Joe Bruckart in the middle-distance events, with the distance events handled by seniors George Wilkinson and Sean Gruver, as well as freshmen John Dorr and Matt Schmelzer. Cal's sheer volume of speed will put the team's relays amongst the top in the country.

Bruckart doubles for the team in the butterfly events, along with Lim, Ohlin and senior Hiro Sakoda. Lim has the team's third-best all-time mark in the 100 fly (47.43) and swam on the team's individual medley relays at last year's NCAA Championships.

Ohlin will also lend strength to the butterfly events. At LSU, he took sixth in the 1999 NCAA Championships with a best time of 47.17-a mark that surpasses the second fastest time in Cal history.

Lim and Ohlin will also compete in the backstroke events, along with Macedo, senior Bruce Vogelsang and sophomore Jeff Natalazio. Lim broke alumnus Bart Kizierowski's school record in the 100 back earlier this year with a 47.27, and Macedo has the school's fourth-best all-time mark in the 100 (47.98) and fifth best in the 200 (1:44.66).

The breaststroking squad is handled by the longtime crew of seniors Peter Aronsson and Andrew Chan and junior Daniel Kim, as well as senior Bayani Flores and freshman Caleb Rowe. Chan, Kim and Aronsson hold the third, fourth, and fifth best all-time marks in the 100 breast, respectively, and each have one of the school's top-ten times in the 200.

Rounding out the swimming squad are the guys who can do it all-the medley athletes. Bruckart and Aronsson lead the way in the medley arena, both qualifying for last year's NCAA championships in the 200 individual medley. Additional strength in the medley events comes from sophomore Keith Vogelsang and freshmen Brooks Jenkins and John Dorr.

"I'm excited about the season," Thornton said. "Win or lose, the times are going to be great and we'll see some real outstanding swims."

Cal's aquatics program is complemented by a strong cadre of divers, led by returners Nicolas Bartolotta, a junior, and Robbie Quinn and Ryan Southwick, both sophomores.

The team also features three new faces-Noah Chutz, Nathaniel Dean, and Richard Rech.

The Bears open up against the Sun Devils at 1 p.m. Jan. 25. Up next will be the Wildcats, who get their turn the following day at Spieker Pool at noon.


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