Jan. 19, 2011
BERKELEY - By Scott Ball
This article appeared in the Winter 2010-11 issue of the Cal Sports Quarterly
The momentum might have started the minute ESPN announcer Rowdy Gaines questioned Cal coach David Durden's picks to swim in the 200 medley relay at the start of the second day of the 2010 NCAA Championships. From there, the Golden Bears not only surprised the experts by winning the event without their two top sprinters in the line-up, but they went on to finish second in the team competition, their best showing in almost 25 years.
This season, Durden's troops include all six 2010 national champions - seniors Nathan Adrian, Damir Dugonjic, Guy Barnea, Graeme Moore, Josh Daniels and sophomore Tom Shields - plus several others who dazzled the swimming world at last year's NCAA meet in Columbus, Ohio.
"Cal has the talent, the pedigree, and most importantly the desire to win the national championship this year," said Jeff Commings of Swimming World Magazine. "They look like they have all the pieces together to win it all. I am excited for this year's NCAA Championship just to see what Cal can do."
Indeed, the Bears were impressive on the national stage in 2010. They won the most relays of any Cal squad in its illustrious NCAA history, capturing four of the meet's five relays - the 200 and 400 free, and 200 and 400 medley relays - behind the assorted efforts of Adrian, Dugonjic, Shields, Daniels, Barnea and Moore. Additionally, Adrian and Dugonjic were repeat champions from 2009 in the 100 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, respectively, and newcomer Shields won the 100 butterfly in his first season as a Bear.
Of all the successful relays Cal showcased at the NCAA meet, it was the 200 medley relay that might be Durden's favorite and a metaphor for the make-up and heart and soul of the Bears' men's swimming program.
"Our 200 medley relay didn't have two of our individual national champions, Nathan and Tom, who were our fastest in the 100 free and 100 fly." explained Durden. "On paper it looked like I should use those swimmers, but in the context of what we were trying to do, to get the most points and manage our energy level, the four best were Guy, Damir, Graeme and Josh.
"The diversity in those four is a snap shot of our team. We had one of the shortest on our team (5-9 Barnea) swimming the backstroke, followed by the tallest on our team (6-7 Dugonjic) swimming the breaststroke. We had four different nations represented. We had an Israeli (Barnea), a Slovenian (Dugonjic), a South African (Moore) and an American (Daniels). Each had taken a completely different path to get to that point of their swimming careers and to that relay. Their unique paths intertwined."
In fact, all six of Cal's champions took distinctive routes to Berkeley and have all kept their individuality within the Bears' system to thrive at the highest level of collegiate swimming.
Nathan Adrian, Superstar
As great a swimmer Adrian is, he might be an even better role model. He has earned a 4.0 GPA each of his last four semesters at Cal, majoring in public health, and was named a 2010 first-team Academic All-American. In the pool, he is among the world's elite, winning the 50- and 100-meter free at the prestigious Pan Pacific Championships last summer while also being a member of the U.S. gold medal-winning 400 medley and 400 freestyle relays.
On the college stage, Adrian is approaching Matt Biondi-like status as a two-time defending national champion in the 100 free and a member of the 2010 NCAA champion 200 free, 400 free and 400 medley relays. In 2009, he was the Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year, as well as NCAA champ in both the 50 and 100 free - all after earning a gold medal as a member of the U.S. 400 free relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Tom Shields, New Standout
Shields came to Cal as the 2009 National High School Swimmer of the Year after setting a national high school record in the 200 free. At Cal, Shields has continued to improve. He was named the 2010 Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year after earning a national title in the 100 fly. Shields also made an impact on the relays as part of the 400 free and 400 medley events.
In one of the most impressive performances at the NCAA meet, Shields, immediately after winning the 100 fly, turned around and swam the 200 free with no rest, earning a point for the Bears by finishing 16th.
Damir Dugonjic, Gentle Giant
A 6-7 breaststroker who can nearly glide the length of the pool underwater, Dugonjic is the two-time NCAA champion in the 100 breaststroke and helped propel the Bears to national titles in the 200 and 400 medley relays. According to Durden, the native of Ravne na Koroskem, Slovenia, still doesn't know how good he is.
"Damir first came to Cal just to see what the U.S. college experience was like," said Durden. "Everyone at home thought he would be back in six weeks. Now he is winning national championships and averaging between a 3.2-3.4 GPA in conservation and resource studies."
Guy Barnea, Big Personality from Israel
To call Barnea diminutive is not getting to the gist of his personality, because although he stands only 5-9, the senior from Omer, Israel, projects one of the biggest personalities on the team with his confidence and work ethic. He led off the 200 and 400 medley relays with his backstroke, and anchored the 200 free relay. Also impressive academically, he was recently accepted into Cal's Haas School of Business.
"When I look for an athlete I can count on, I look no further than Guy," said Durden. "I never hesitate in putting huge responsibilities on his shoulders."
Graeme Moore, Unassuming Sprinter from South Africa
It is easy to get overshadowed when competing in practice against one of the world's best sprinters in Nathan Adrian. Yet Moore, an integrative biology major from Johannesburg, South Africa, was a key figure in three of the Bears' four champion relays, swimming the butterfly leg of the 200 medley relay, the second leg of the 200 free relay and lead-off on the 400 free relay.
"Graeme might not get the same sort of recognition as the other guys, but he doesn't draw attention to himself either," said Durden. "When you look at the photos of our national championship relays, he is in the background. That is a visional reminder of his character, in the background doing a tremendous job."
Josh Daniels, from Walk-on to Relay Star
For Daniels, the path to the top of the national championship podium might have been the longest of the Bears. He came to Cal as a walk-on from Fresno and redshirted his first year. Through hard work and dedication, he has emerged as one of the team's top sprinters, swimming on the national championship 200 and 400 free relays and anchoring the 200 medley relay.
"Josh has worked himself into this position," said Durden. "The relay mentality is almost like a barroom brawl and that fits Josh. He loves to compete and loves to win."
David Durden, Coaching Engineer
Assembling this eclectic group of Cal athletes into a cohesive unit takes an engineer's approach, and that is exactly what David Durden, an electrical engineering major at UC Irvine, has been able to accomplish. Since arriving in 2007, Durden has thrived as the leader of the Bears, earning 2010 NCAA Coach of the Meet and Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors.
So when ESPN's Gaines asked, "What is the world is David Durden thinking?" when Durden chose not to swim Adrian or Shields in the 200 medley relay ... well, apparently the Cal coach did know. He was leading an extraordinary group of individuals to do some extraordinary things in the pool.