Jacob Pebley and Josh Prenot Flourish in the Cal Environment
By Scott Ball (This article appeared in the 2013-14 Winter issue of the Cal Sports Quarterly)
Super sophomore record-holders Josh Prenot and Jacob Pebley took unconventional routes to become Golden Bears, but both are now on straight ahead paths to lead the Cal men’s swimming & diving team to another run at an NCAA title … and to compete for a spot on the 2016 Olympic Team.
The two key members of coach David Durden’s 2013-14 squad openly praise the virtues of team dynamics after having grown up swimming on club teams where their primary focus was on themselves. As opposed to the majority of their college teammates who swam for both their high schools and their club teams, Prenot, from Orcutt, Calif., and Pebley, a native of Corvallis, Ore., trained mostly alone in route to becoming elite swimmers.
Now, the two standouts are inseparable on a Cal squad that is considered one of the front-runners to capture the 2014 national championship.
“They are like-minded kids,” Durden explained. “Josh and Jacob are very focused on representing Cal, as well as representing the United States internationally. They are like two peas in a pod. Their initials are the same, they laugh at the same jokes and having been rooming together every since they arrived on campus. I have never had a pair of swimmers with such a strong bond. They are very good at their respective events, but they also help each other with what they might consider their off events. They just love the sport.”
With a tradition of excellence as impressive as Cal’s in men’s swimming & diving, the fact both Prenot and Pebley set school records during their freshman campaigns opened many eyes.
Prenot received slightly more notoriety in his first season in Berkeley when was named the 2013 Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year in the spring after winning the conference title in the 400-yard individual medley. He later placed fourth in the 400 IM at the NCAA Championships and set a new school record with a time of 3:40.49. He also placed fifth in the 200 IM and was fifth in the 200 breast at the NCAA meet.
Pebley was also a major contributor on the Bears’ 2012-13 squad that went undefeated in dual competitions and wrestled the conference team title away from Stanford for the first time in 31 years. One of the key moments was a victory by the Bears’ 400 medley relay with Pebley on the leadoff backstroke leg. After owning one of the nation’s top times in the 200-yard backstroke for the majority of the year, he placed third in the event at the NCAA Championships, establishing a Cal record with a time of 1:39.71. Pebley was also seventh in the 100 back at the NCAA meet.
Between Prenot and Pebley, the two Cal newcomers scored a combined 71 points in their first NCAA competition, as the Bears finished as the national runner-up after winning back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012.
Given their backgrounds, neither Prenot nor Pebley were used to being major contributors on a championship squad.
Prenot was home schooled (Family Partnership Charter School) by his parents, Bill and Tammy, and took some community college classes online prior to coming to Cal. He started swim lessons as an infant before beginning training with the Santa Maria Swim Club under coach Mike Ashmore.
“In club swimming, I would have my own lane in practice, doing long distance sets and grinding it out by myself,” Prenot said. “At Cal, all the guys you are training with are going to be pushing you to be your best every day. Without being challenged like this, I don’t think I would be as fast as I am right now.”
For Pebley, he took up swimming at age five, but lessons never clicked for him. He originally started on a club team in Albany, Ore., before his family moved to Corvallis and he joined Corvallis Aquatics under coach Rick Gunther. Pebley attended one swim team meeting at Crescent Valley High School but decided against competing for his school.
“Before I came to Cal, I was always swimming for just me, me, me,” Pebley said. “And here, this is more of a ‘we’ thing. You can really build off of all that emotion you get from your teammates. I was accepted so well by the team that I had so much to look forward to. As the season progressed, I realized there are a lot of bigger things at stake than just what I wanted. When you get wrapped up in the team concept, you can accomplish both what you want, as well as what the team needs.”
“The coolest thing is that Jacob and I finally have the team element,” Prenot said. “It is so nice to have 30 other like-minded people on our team. We hold each other accountable, and that is what helps us succeed.”
Along with helping Prenot and Pebley thrive at the collegiate level, the team environment has also aided them in their quest to represent Team USA in Rio de Janeiro at the 2016 Olympics. Reaping the benefit of training alongside such Bear legends as Olympic gold medalists Nathan Adrian and Anthony Ervin on a regular basis at Spieker Aquatics Complex, both are now members of the U.S. Men’s National Team along with Adrian, Ervin, recent graduate Tom Shields and current Cal freshman Ryan Murphy.
Pebley has been on the U.S National Team for the past two years and last summer captured bronze medals in both the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke at the World University Games in Kazan, Russia. Prenot earned his first spot on the national squad when he finished the summer ranked sixth in the nation in the 400-meter IM.
For Cal men’s swimming & diving, the drive for excellence extends beyond the pool despite all the competition between the lane lines. Both Prenot and Pebley were well aware what each other was doing during the recruiting process. The combination of athletics and academics brought the two swimmers to Berkeley.
“I couldn’t be happier with my choice to come to Cal,” said Prenot, who plans on majoring in physics. “Not only are Dave (Durden) and Yuri (Suguiyama, assistant coach) the best coaches, they are some of the best people in the world. Also, we have the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s greatest professors. The Cal education is so valuable to have once your swimming career is over. Our goal is to have our NCAA squad with a team GPA over 3.0. Coach Durden always tells us there is a straight correlation between the team’s GPA and its success at the NCAA Championships.”
“Cal is very challenging,” echoed Pebley, who is interested in majoring in psychology. “Not just in the pool, but in the classroom as well. It keeps you on your toes, and that can help you in all aspects of your life.”