An impending tidal wave: the bears swim against Stanford

Bears territory is being invaded this weekend by Bay Area rival Stanford, and it’s time for the Bears to try and fend off the Cardinal for the first time in the 2021-22 swim season.

In what became known as the “Battle of the Bay,” No. 8 Cal and No. 5 Stanford square off in what is the Bears’ last double encounter before the Pac-12 championship. The pressure is on and the only thing Cal women’s swimming and diving has to do at this point in the season is execute a win.

“We have to stay true to what being a Cal Bear means to us,” senior Isabel Ivey said. “We have to focus on what we have to do and what we are good at.”

Cal is coming in strong with a five-game winning streak and an 83% success rate this season. In terms of conference wins, the Bears have conquered every Pac-12 team so far, most recently beating USC and UCLA. For the last matchup with a Pac-12 team before the conference championships, the Bears have home pool advantage to splash the Cardinal on their side of the bay.

Along with seeing a historic rivalry go head-to-head this weekend, Cal has the special opportunity to honor the teams’ seniors. Elise Garcia, Robin Neumann, Ema Rajic, Maddie Ward, Alicia Wilson and Isabel Ivey will represent their Bear family for the final time at the Spieker Aquatic Complex, marking the end of a transformative era in Cal women’s swimming and diving.

These six seniors have left an indelible mark on Cal’s swimming and diving program. Individually, their successes speak volumes, including Garcia being named NCAA champion in the 200 freestyle relay and Rajic’s title as Tokyo Olympian in 2020. However, working together, these Bears have entered the history and have built a team that has retained unparalleled spirit, talent and morale.

“As a senior, time flew by,” Ivey said. “I’m so proud of everyone around me and the team and everything they’ve done.”

Nonetheless, their eyes are on the prize and the Bears won’t stop until a tidal wave drives the Cardinal back to their side of the bay.

The swimming and diving team has insane depth and flexibility, but the spotlight will naturally follow a few swimmers who have led the team to deep wins this season. Rookie Leah Polonsky, second Isabelle Stadden, junior Ayla Spitz and Ivey are key swimmers to watch this weekend.

This quartet carried the Bears to Los Angeles, each winning two races against USC or UCLA.

Specifically, Polonsky had wins over UCLA in the 200-yard freestyle, battling neck and neck before hitting the wall 0.09 seconds faster than his opponent and the 400 individual medley. Spitz also had two wins over UCLA in the 1,000 freestyle and 200 backstroke. Stadden followed her dominant teammate in earning victories in the 100 backstroke and 200 backstroke against USC. Ivey won the 100 and 200 freestyle against USC, earning the title “the backbone of the Bears.”

“We’re going to support each other this weekend and support each other and if a race doesn’t go to plan, that’s how we recover quickly and adapt,” Ivey said.

The focus is on and the momentum is building. Watch Cal plunge headlong into the pool at the Spieker Aquatic Complex at noon on Saturday, marking the start of what fans hope will become a legendary and momentous encounter for the Bears.

Alisa Steel covers women’s swimming and diving. Contact her at [email protected].

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