MINNEAPOLIS – On the day before the NCAA Championships officially get underway, Missy Franklin had a little fun with good friend Elizabeth Beisel, a fellow Olympian who swims for Florida, at the University Aquatic Center at the University of Minnesota.
Though three years apart and students at rival schools – Franklin is a freshman while Beisel is a senior – the two have competed together numerous times for Team USA. So with that background, ESPNU decided to pair them together so they could interview each other for a segment that will appear on the broadcast of the meet April 2.
Between all the laughs and joking around, the pair actually got a few questions in, and Beisel wrapped up the session with this one: How different is a college relay from an international relay? Franklin, after all, has a very good perspective. She won three gold medals on relays at the World Championships last summer and picked up two gold and one bronze on relays at the 2012 Olympics. She also had a hand in three victorious Cal relays at the Pac-12 Championships two weeks ago.
“I think relays are the most important part of swimming just because they bring the team together,” Franklin said. “It’s that idea of doing something that’s bigger than yourself. I know I’m going to do whatever I can for my relay.”
The concept of team under head coach Teri McKeever is major reason Franklin and many of her fellow Golden Bears chose to move to Berkeley for their collegiate experience. On Thursday, Cal’s 16 swimmers and one diver who qualified for the NCAA meet – the largest group in school history to earn invitations to nationals – will begin their quest for the program’s fourth championship since 2009.
“Last year, I never expected NCAAs to be that team oriented,” said sophomore Rachel Bootsma, who captured the 100 backstroke title last year and spoke along with Franklin and McKeever at a pre-meet news conference Wednesday. “Everyone always said it was like that, but I had never felt that until I had my first swim on a relay the first day. I think it also takes away some of the nerves because you know there are people who are supporting you and have your back no matter what. It is a really special feeling. I am really lucky to be a part of this, and we are really lucky to be here with this strong of a team.”
For the Bears to have a chance to bring home the championship trophy, though, they will need results from everyone in the lineup and can’t rely on the success of just a handful of swimmers.
“The beauty of NCAA swimming is that you can’t win a title with just these two,” McKeever said of Bootsma and Franklin. “You need an amazing cast.”
The cast the Bears have in Minneapolis features 10 who earned All-American honors last year, including sophomore Elizabeth Pelton, who was named the NCAA Swimmer of the Year after setting an American record in the 200 back and finishing as a runner-up in two other races. In addition, senior Cindy Tran has been a part of six individual or relay national titles over the course of her career.
“We have a lot of pride coming from California to represent our team and our university,” Bootsma said. “I think we have done a really good job this year not thinking of it as pressure, but as an opportunity to swim fast. We have the opportunity to do some great things here this week. Obviously, I am nervous, but it is from a place of excitement and not being scared.”
Even for Franklin, who will be participating in her first NCAA meet but has seen a great deal of success on the international level, the significance of the moment is not lost.
“I think for everyone on the team, when we put the California cap on there is so much more meaning behind it than just putting on a regular cap,” Franklin said. “For me, it is very similar to having an American flag on my cap, knowing who I am representing, where I come from and knowing that I am swimming with my entire team, not just myself.”
There’s that word team again – an important element that could make all the difference this week.