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No. 1 Bears shoot for top at NCAA Championships

by ZwemZa on March 19th, 2015
California (pac12.com)

California (pac12.com)

California, the top-ranked team in the country and owner of the best time in the country in eight of 18 swimming events, travels to the NCAA Championships in Greensboro, N.C. this week in search of its fourth national title since 2009. Competition runs Thursday through Saturday, and all events will be streamed live online on either ncaa.com or espn3.com.

The Golden Bears, who finished third last season and second two years ago since claiming back-to-back NCAA crowns in 2011 and ’12, are coming off an undefeated conference dual campaign and a convincing Pac-12 championship. At the league meet, Cal won a school-record 12 events, setting one American and one NCAA record in the process.

The Bears have qualified 16 swimmers and one diver for the meet. Sophomore Elizabeth Pelton (200 IM, 200 back) and freshman Cierra Runge (500 free, 1650 free) rank first in the country in both of their specialties, while sophomore Missy Franklin leads the field in the 200 free, an event she claimed as a freshman last March when she established an American record. In addition, Cal owns the fastest times in the nation in the 200 free relay, the 800 free relay and the 200 medley relay. The Bears’ 800 free relay time of 6:50.18 from the Pac-12 Championships is five seconds ahead of any other squad this year.

NCAA Meet Coverage
All six sessions of the NCAA Championships – morning prelims and evening finals – will be streamed live online. ESPN3 will cover finals on Friday and Saturday, with the remaining events available at gopack.com. Coverage of the meet will be broadcast on ESPNU starting at 6 p.m. PT on Tuesday, March 31.

54 and Counting
Cal enters the NCAA Championships this week with a combined 54 all-time individual and relay titles. Beginning with the Bears’ first individual national crown – Mary T. Meagher’s 200 butterfly in 1983 – Cal has accumulated 40 individual championships and 14 relay victories. Of that total, 23 NCAA wins have come since 2009. Natalie Coughlin holds the school individual mark with 11 all-time from 2001-04 (four each in the 100 back and 100 fly, three in the 200 back). This year’s squad features three individuals who have earned NCAA titles previously. Sophomore Missy Franklin set an American record on her way to the 200 free crown last year, while junior Rachel Bootsma took the 100 back and junior Elizabeth Pelton prevailed in the 200 back in 2013. In addition, Cal claimed the 800 free relay last March when Franklin brought the Bears back from nearly 2.5 seconds down on the anchor leg to edge Georgia at the finish.

Bears Aiming for No. 4
The Golden Bears are seeking the fourth NCAA championship in school history this week. Cal captured its first team title in 2009 and came back to repeat in 2011 and ’12 (The Cal men also won the NCAA crown in ’11 and ’12). Last year, the Bears were third overall, while they were second in 2013. Cal has finished among the top five in the country nine years in a row, in the top three the last six years, and have had 18 consecutive top-10 finishes under head coach Teri McKeever.

Tops in the Country
In the latest statistics, Golden Bears own the best time in the country in eight different events – five individual and three relays for the NCAA Championships. Cal ranks No. 1 in the nation in the …

  • 500-yard freestyle – Cierra Runge (4:31.90)
  • 200-yard individual medley – Elizabeth Pelton (1:52.93)
  • 200-yard freestyle – Missy Franklin (1:41.09)
  • 1650-yard freestyle – Cierra Runge (15:40.17)
  • 200-yard backstroke – Elizabeth Pelton (1:49.00)

In addition, the Bears rate at the top of the list in the 200 medley relay (1:35.25), the 200 free relay (1:27.18) and the 800 free relay, which set an American record of 6:50.18 at the Pac-12 Championships last week and is five seconds faster than any other team so far.

Several other Bears are also listed among the top five in their events – Franklin (2nd, 200 IM; 2nd, 200 free), Celina Li (4th, 200 IM), Farida Osman (3rd, 50 free; 5th, 100 butterfly), Runge (3rd, 200 free), Rachel Bootsma (2nd, 100 back), Pelton (3rd, 100 back) and Noemie Thomas (5th, 200 fly).

Recapping Cal’s 2015 Pac-12 Title
On its way to its fourth team title at the Pac-12 Championships Feb. 25-28, Cal won 12 of 18 swimming races to set a school record for most wins at the meet. The previous high was nine from the 2012 season.

This year, the Bears prevailed in each of the first seven events contested in the pool – 200 medley relay, 800 free relay, 500 free (Cierra Runge), 200 IM (Missy Franklin), 50 free (Farida Osman), 200 free relay and 400 IM (Celina Li). In addition, Cal took first-place honors in the 200 free (Missy Franklin), 1650 free (Cierra Runge), 200 butterfly (Noemie Thomas), 100 backstroke (Rachel Bootsma) and 200 backstroke (Missy Franklin).

The final team standings showed Cal with 1,629.5 points. Stanford was second with 1,401 and USC third with 1,109.

Six of Cal’s victories resulted in either meet, NCAA or American records:

  • 200 medley relay (Rachel Bootsma, Marina Garcia, Noemie Thomas, Farida Osman) – 1:35.25 (meet record)
  • 200 medley relay (Cierra Runge, Elizabeth Pelton, Caroline Piehl, Missy Franklin) 6:50.18 (American record)
  • 500 free (Cierra Runge) – 4:31.90 (NCAA record)
  • 200 free relay (Kaylin Bing, Missy Franklin, Rachel Bootsma, Farida Osman) – 1:27.18 (meet record)
  • 200 free (Missy Franklin) – 1:41.09 (meet record)
  • 1650 free (Cierra Runge) – 15:40.17 (meet record)

Runge: Pac-12 Swimmer of the Meet
Freshman Cierra Runge made a rather impressive debut in her first Pac-12 Championships. On the opening night, she swam the lead-off leg on Cal’s 800 free relay that set an American record of 6:50.18. Her split of 1:42.73 was a PR and the No. 5 time in school history. A day later, Runge smashed the NCAA record in the 500 free when she was timed in 4:31.90, which was ahead of the 4:32.53 by Georgia’s Brittany MacLean from 2014. Then on the final night of the meet, Runge beat the Pac-12 record in the 1650 free, finishing in 15:40.17, which was just a second off Janet Evans’ 1990 Pac-12 mark. Along the way, she also lowered the Cal record in the 1000 free to 9:26.80. Given the results, it was no surprise that Runge was named the Pac-12 Swimmer of the Meet.

Perhaps what makes Runge’s accomplishments even more remarkable is that she was primarily a sprinter until a year ago. She had a breakout summer in 2014 when she qualified for both the Pan Pacific Championships and the 2015 World Championships. At Pan Pacs, Runge claimed a silver medal in the 400-meter free.

Looking Back at Last Year’s NCAAs
Cal finished third at the 2014 NCAA meet in Minneapolis, winning a pair of national titles on night two. First, then-freshman Missy Franklin lowered the American record in the 200 free to 1:40.31, then she brought the Bears back from 2.5 seconds down heading into the anchor leg of the 800 free relay to just nudge out Georgia for first place. Rachael Acker, Caroline Piehl and Elizabeth Pelton completed the foursome. In addition, the Bears were second in the 500 free (Franklin), 100 back (Cindy Tran), 200 back (Pelton) and in the 200 free relay (Kaylin Bing, Tran, Franklin, Farida Osman).

Missy Franklin Named a TOYA
Missy Franklin gained yet another honor when she was announced as one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans (TOYA) by the U.S. Junior Chamber (Jaycees) earlier this year. The awards recognize individuals who exemplify the best attributes of the nation’s young people. The 77th Annual Ten Outstanding Young Americans banquet and ceremony will be held on Saturday, March 28, in Nashville, Tennessee.

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