The Daily Californian Online

Last Year's Success Breeds Confidence

By Connor Byrne
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Category: Sports > Winter > Swimming (Men's)

Guy Barnea, who swam the backstroke leg of Cal's title-winning medley relays, will try and help the Bears land an NCAA Championship.

"I don't think we're going to leave the top four for a while."

Those words were uttered by then-freshman Tom Shields at the conclusion of the 2010 season, one in which the Bears finished second at the NCAA Championships in March.

"Or the top two."

That second part may sound a little overambitious, especially for a team that hasn't won a national championship since 1980. However, with the Bears returning 15 swimmers from last year's squad, including all three of their individual NCAA champions, it's a prediction that may not be as lofty as it seems.

Along with Shields, who won the 100 butterfly at last year's NCAAs, Cal brings back two standout seniors in Olympic gold medalist Nathan Adrian and Damir Dugonjic, a two-time NCAA champion in the 100 breaststroke.

The Bears finished 2010 by shocking the swimming world with an incredible run at the national championship, which had Cal sitting atop the leader boards at the end of the second day of competition.

Still, the Bears feel like they're just getting started.

"We may have had one or two (swimmers) that just topped out at how they performed. But, I would say most have not," coach David Durden said. "And that's what's exciting. We can get better."

The Bears have already gotten off to an impressive start to the 2010-11 season, highlighted by a third-place finish at the 2010 Short Course Nationals in December.

However, regular season performance doesn't necessarily indicate how Cal will swim when it counts the most. It certainly didn't last season, when the Bears lost dual meets to conference rivals Arizona and Stanford. Headed into nationals, few considered Cal to be a legitimate contender.

"(Durden) doesn't want anyone to know what we can do until NCAAs," Shields said.

That won't be the case this year, as the No. 4 Bears will likely be the ones with the target on their backs.

"We consider that such a great compliment that different swimming pundits think that we're the favorite to win an NCAA title, but we do realize that it was last year's team that earned that right," Durden said. "We're working to earn those compliments."

That isn't to say that Cal won't ever be an underdog. Though the Bears likely won't reduce training in preparation for the meet, they will certainly be looking to dethrone the No. 2 Cardinal at the Pac-10 Championships, a meet that Stanford has won for the last 29 years in a row.

Cal will also get a shot at redemption when they take on perennial swimming powerhouse Arizona, currently ranked one spot ahead of the Bears at third.

And then there is always top-ranked Texas, who surpassed Cal on the last day of competition to win the school's ninth national championship last season. The Longhorns look to be as strong as ever in 2011, led by four-time All-American and two-time NCAA champion Scott Jostes.

Still, the stage is set for the Bears to have a breakthrough season. They know it just as well as every other team in the country does.

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