NCAA Men’s Championships: Cal Clinches National Title Behind Team Chemistry Led By Fifth-Year Standouts (VIDEO)

Cal after securing the 2022 NCAA Championship -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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NCAA Men’s Championships: Cal Clinches National Title Behind Team Chemistry Led By Fifth-Year Standouts

The California Golden Bears are national champions again. Cal finished the NCAA Men’s Championships with 487.5 points, defeating Texas by 51 points. The Longhorns scored 436.5 points, while Florida took third with 374. NC State (291) and Indiana (265) rounded out the top five. Cal finished third in the 400 freestyle relay to conclude the meet, but the Bears mathematically clinched the victory after the 200 butterfly, when they established a 63-point lead that Texas could not erase with only two events remaining.

The win marked the fifth national title that the Golden Bears have won under head coach Dave Durden, who took over the program before the 2007-08 season. Once Durden arrived, it did not take long for the program to become one of the country’s very best. In his third year in Berkeley, Cal finished second at the NCAA Championships, only 30.5 points behind Texas. A year later, the Bears won their first title, and they won a second trophy the year after that.

Since then, Cal has finished either first or second at the NCAA Championships every single year. That’s 12 consecutive meets, and it almost certainly would have been 13 if the 2020 NCAAs were not cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, every single swimmer who has swum four years under Durden has been part of at least one title-winning team.

Each of the Cal championship rosters have been led by star performers, from Nathan Adrian and Tom Shields to Ryan Murphy and Andrew Seliskar. This season, Cal’s stars were senior Hugo Gonzalez, who captured the national title in the 200 IM, and sophomore Destin Lasco, the winner of the 200 backstroke and runnerup in the 200 IM. But it’s about depth, too, and Cal’s guys up and down the roster have come through with significant time drops to earn night swims year after year. This season, Cal earned points in every individual swimming event except the 500 and 1650 freestyle, and the Bears had at least one A-finalist in all of those races except the 100 butterfly. They earned a win in the 400 medley relay as well as second-place finish, two thirds and a fourth in other relays.

Cal swimmers excel at the NCAA Championships, they say, because of their collective team attitude and belief in each other.

“Just from an upperclassman perspective, we try to emphasize having trust in each other,” senior breaststroker Reece Whitley said. “We’ve had ups and downs through our season, and everyone has been really positive through those ebbs and flows. All 38 of us work really hard on a daily basis, and we see that from each other. I think that makes it so much easier to have faith, and it makes it easier for the individual to stay on their process and do what we need to do.”

But the X-factor in this year’s title was undoubtedly the return of four swimmers to the program for a fifth season under an NCAA COVID-19 waiver: Daniel Carr, Sean Grieshop, Trenton Julian and Bryce Mefford.

Grieshop took eighth in Friday’s 400 IM, and Carr and Mefford placed third and seventh, respectively, in Saturday’s 200 backstroke. Julian, meanwhile, has been in three A-finals this week, finishing seventh in the 200 IM and 200 freestyle before he placed fourth in the 200 butterfly. Julian is far from a sprint specialist, but he has taken on the role of designated butterflier for Cal’s medley relays. His 44.44 split on Friday’s 400 medley relay was nowhere near the fastest in the field, but it was enough.

“This is what I came back for,” Julian said after that relay win. “These guys are the reasons I came back. The individual performance is obviously important for me, but the team, the relays, that’s what’s important. That’s why I came back. Get the points on the board for the team title race.”

As the quartet of fifth-years sat down for the traditional champions’ interview Saturday night, they each spoke glowing about what it has meant to them to be a part of the Cal program and how they look forward to continue supporting future Golden Bears in years to come.

“It’s definitely pretty special. It’s the team, first off, and also the coaching staff, the staff around us and our alumni. The support we have around us is unmatched. No one can compare at all, and I think that’s something that people should look at Cal and see, ‘I want to be a part of that,’ Mefford said. “I know for a fact that we’re so excited to sit in the stands in a bear suit and cheer for the guys.”

Cal achieved its first individual highlight of the meet on Friday, when Gonzalez delivered on years of potential to capture his first NCAA title in the 400 IM. Gonzalez swam the fastest time in history in that race (3:32.88), but as he walked out onto the pool deck for that swim, he broke out of a swimmer’s typical pre-race laser-focus to hug teammate Jason Louser.

Louser had finished 12th in the 400 IM prelims after entering as the fourth overall seed, but he bounced back to win the B-final in 3:38.23.

“I wanted to J-Lo to know that he was a great swimmer. I had that experience last year,” said Gonzalez, who swam the fastest time of the meet last season in the 400 IM but in the B-final. “I wanted to let him know that he can prove himself by winning the B-final. That’s just going to fire the boys up, fire me and Sean up. I wanted to make sure that he knew that, and that’s why, when I was walking behind the blocks, I took a moment to hug him.”

That’s the bond that these Cal swimmers have showcased all week and throughout their careers, and swimming for each other has delivered them another national title.

Full Team Scores:

  1. California                      487.5   2. Texas                           436.5
  3. Florida                           374   4. NC State                          291
  5. Indiana                           265   6. Arizona St                        236
  7. Stanford                          231   8. Georgia                           194
  9. Ohio St                           165  10. Virginia                        154.5
 11. Virginia Tech                     143  12. Louisville                        132
 13. Harvard                           103  14. Alabama                            91
 15. Lsu                                85  15. Purdue                             85
 17. Arizona                            79  18. Tennessee                        72.5
 19. Minnesota                          44  19. Texas A&M                          44
 21. Georgia Tech                       38  22. Michigan                           36
 23. Miami (Florida)                    31  24. Columbia                           30
 25. Missouri                           27  26. Southern California                25
 27. UNC                                24  28. Penn                             22.5
 29. Auburn                             22  30. Princeton                          14
 31. Kentucky                           11  32. Northwestern                      6.5
 33. Notre Dame                          5  34. Towson                              4
 34. Wisconsin                           4  34. Smu                                 4
 37. Utah                                2
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