By Jonathan Okanes
Cal Bear Blog
BERKELEY – Even when it became obvious that Cal’s men’s swim team had clinched another national championship, head coach Dave Durden tried to keep his team relaxed.
Yeah, good luck with that.
As Saturday night’s final session of the NCAA championships went on, about the only Cal swimmers that didn’t get excited were the ones that still had to race. It was an emotional, electrifying night for the Bears, who captured their third national title in the past four years, surpassing Texas on the final day of the event with a superb session of swimming to win comfortably, 468.5-417.5.
“I was on the last relay, so we still had to swim another race,” said Cal freshman Ryan Murphy, who won individual NCAA titles in the 100 and 200 backstroke. “Dave was trying to keep us all relaxed, but the guys who had finished swimming couldn’t sit down. They were cheering a bunch, very excited, pumping everyone up. It was really cool.”
Despite trailing Texas after the first two nights, the Bears were in good position going into the final day based on the events that were still left. Cal got a surprising boost immediately on Saturday night when senior Jeremy Bagshaw set a school record in the 1,650 (mile) free, finishing second with a time of 14:30.
That put the Bears in front of the Longhorns by 11 points, and they were on their way.
“For me, I would have never thought we would have won this championship based off the performance of a Cal miler, and that’s what happened this evening,” Durden said. “Jeremy Bagshaw set the tone, and our guys just followed suit. That’s what stood out to me.”
Later in the evening, Murphy won the 200 backstroke with a time of 1:37.35. He was also part of the 400 free relay team, along with Tyler Messerschmidt, Fabio Gimondi and Seth Stubblefield, that finished in second place.
“I thought it was really cool when there was still a little bit of doubt and we started to get the confidence that we’re going to win this thing,” Murphy said. “That atmosphere is something that you can’t duplicate. It was awesome.”
The Bears were buoyed by a raucous fan contingent of alumni, friends and family, some of whom dressed up in bear suits each night.
“We had 12 ridiculous alumni wearing bear suits up there. How can you not look up there and just not laugh and appreciate that?,” Durden said. “For us, it was just a big party and there happened to be a swim meet going on. That’s how we were rolling tonight. When you get some momentum going in a meet like this, you can just keep it rolling.”
After the meet concluded and the Bears received their national championship trophy, the swimmers went into the stands to celebrate with their followers.
“It was awesome seeing them come in every night,” Murphy said. “No other school had the type of following we had there. No other group had the alumni following that we did. That’s really special. It’s awesome to know that all these people came to Cal, and also that they loved it. They want to see Cal continue to have a lot of success.”
For Cal’s seniors, it was their third national championship. Still, finishing second last season fueled the Bears to get back to the top in 2014. Cal’s swimmers wanted to do well individually, but even more they wanted to hoist the NCAA trophy as one once again.
“It was an incredible three days,” Murphy said. “Just watching the guys that were on teams that were competing for the team title versus guys that were basically just swimming for themselves, it’s just a huge difference in body language and the amount of fun they have at the meet. Having such a good team definitely enhances the experience of NCAAs.”