Claire Weinstein, Alex Shackell Set to Lift Cal Women Back to National Title Mix

Claire Weinstein & Alex Shackell -- Photos Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Claire Weinstein, Alex Shackell Set to Lift Cal Women Back to National Title Mix

The last time the California women were even on the outskirts of the national-title race in women’s swimming was at the end of the 2021 season, the Golden Bears’ first following the departure of Olympic medalist Abbey Weitzeil. Cal placed third that year behind Virginia and NC State, with junior Isabel Ivey and freshman backstroker Isabelle Stadden as the top performers on that squad.

Two-and-a-half years later, Stadden is beginning her senior season while Ivey is swimming her fifth year closer to home at the University of Florida. Cal is coming off eighth and 11th-place national finishes, and the 2022-23 campaign was shrouded by controversy as longtime head coach Teri McKeever was placed on administrative leave after allegations of verbal abuse and bullying and then dismissed once an investigation into McKeever’s conduct concluded.

Safe to say now that the Cal women’s program has better times ahead. On the same day, two of the country’s best female swimmers, both relay medal-winners at the World Championships before entering their junior years of high school, announced on the same day their intentions to join the Bears’ program in the fall of 2025. Alex Shackell announced her commitment first, firming up plans to join older brother Aaron Shackell (currently a freshman on the men’s team) in Berkeley, with Claire Weinstein donning a Cal sweatshirt in an Instagram post hours later.


Claire Weinstein — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Weinstein is the more established international swimmer of the two, having finished a surprising second place in the 200 freestyle as a 15-year-old at the 2022 U.S. International Team Trials and leading off a silver-medal-winning 800 free relay that summer at the World Championships. In 2023, the now-16-year-old Weinstein upset Katie Ledecky for a national title in the 200 free while also finishing third in the 800 free and top-eight in the 400 and 1500 at U.S. Nationals.

That was the meet where Shackell, also 16, dropped more than four seconds in the 200 free to earn a spot as a relay swimmer at Worlds. Better known as one of the top 100 and 200 butterfly swimmers in the country, Shackell ended up joining a star-studded finals relay squad in Fukuoka. Weinstein struggled at Worlds, opening the door for her future college teammate to anchor the group in the medal race. Shackell entered the pool with a nine-hundredth lead over Aussie great Ariarne Titmus, and while she of course could not hold on, silver was a strong consolation prize, and the experience was invaluable.

Now, the two teenagers are set to team up on the college level. With each swimmer allowed three individual events in collegiate championship meets, the Weinstein-Shackell duo will loom over nearly half of the 13 individual events during the 2025-26 season, with Weinstein likely in the 200 free, 500 free and 1650 free while Shackell takes on both butterfly events along with either the 50 free or 200 IM as well as leading roles on four Cal relays.

Meanwhile, you get the sense Cal will be prepared to assemble a strong team around these two budding stars in two seasons’ time based on the leadership now in place.

During the stretch when McKeever was in limbo, Cal stumbled upon a solution for its women’s head coaching position that had been across the pool deck the whole time: the school asked Dave Durden, the men’s head coach since 2007, to take over the women’s program as well. David Marsh, who guided Auburn to 12 national titles during his tenure at that school, had already relocated to Berkeley as Durden’s interim assistant when then-associate head coach Chase Kreitler was out on paternity leave, so Marsh stepped in as associate head coach of the newly-combined program.

In the months directly following this hasty arrangement, the Cal women had one of their worst seasons in recent memory, with Stadden’s backstroke swims the only A-final performances for the Bears at the NCAA Championships. Meanwhile, the Cal men were continuing their winning ways under Durden, winning a sixth national crown in the past 12 meets.


Abbey Weitzeil (left) with Cal head coach Dave Durden — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Expect that success to carry over to the women’s group soon. During her first full season working with Durden, Weitzeil had a career renaissance, getting back onto the World Championships team after surprisingly missing in 2022 and nearly snagging an individual medal in the 50 free.

By the time Weinstein and Shackell arrive in Berkeley, Cal will be a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference — Any Coast Conference? All Crazy Conference? Whatever the name of the league, the addition of the Bears and archrival Stanford to a group led by three-time national champion Virginia and NC State will create one of the most intense swimming conferences ever.

Virginia stars Alex Walsh and Gretchen Walsh will be done with college swimming by then, but Claire Curzan will be a redshirt junior for the Cavaliers while Torri Huske swims her senior season for the Cardinal. Meanwhile, UVA has the likes of Leah HayesBailey Hartman and Anna Moesch entering the program next fall while Leah Shackley and Erika Pelaez are heading to NC State. But it would not be a surprise to see more big names joining Weinstein and Shackell as part of this new generation for Cal.

While the Cal men’s team has been the much more successful program as of late, remember the list of stars who have come through the women’s team: one of the greatest collegiate swimmers in history in Natalie Coughlin and record-breakers Dana Vollmer, Missy FranklinKathleen Baker and Weitzeil. Caitlin Leverenz and Rachel Bootsma were among Cal’s multi-time individual NCAA champions. Well, it’s not hard to imagine Weinstein and Shackell joining this group.

Durden has recruited so many elite male recruits west to Berkeley, and almost all got faster in college. Ryan Murphy is the poster child for the program, but consider Tom Shields, Josh Prenot, Jacob PebleyAndrew SeliskarBryce Mefford and more recently, the trio of Destin LascoJack Alexy and Dare Rose.

Now, female teenage stars are buying into the Cal message, and the Golden Bear women are almost back.

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