Cindy Tran doesn't have to look very far to find competition in the 100 backstroke.
The Cal junior is the two-time defending NCAA champion in the event. As of now, the top candidates to deny her a three-peat are practicing in the same pool every day.
Tran has the best time in the nation this year in the 100 back with a mark of 50.42. The two next best times belong to her teammates.
Freshmen Rachel Bootsma and Elizabeth Pelton rank second and third, respectively. Bootsma, a 2012 Gold Medalist in the 400 medley relay, is No. 2 at 50.54. Pelton has the third-best time with a 51.26.
"Even without them here, I had to push myself every single day," Tran said. "They're pushing me to be even better."
The internal competition is a direct result of Cal establishing itself as the premier women's swimming program in the country. The Bears have won three of the past four NCAA titles and are producing Olympians on a regular basis. Senior Caitlin Leverenz won the bronze medal in the 200 individual medley at the London Games last summer.
"Naturally the expectations with everything we've done are going to be heightened," Tran said. "It's naturally getting more competitive now, and our competition is not just against other schools. It's within our own team. It's challenging, but we're not afraid of the competition and the challenge. The girls on the team have embraced it. It's helped us grow."
The Bears split their first dual meets of the Pac-12 season against Arizona and Arizona State last weekend. This weekend, No. 7 Cal welcomes No. 1 USC to Spieker Aquatics Complex on Friday and No. 12 UCLA on Saturday.
Leverenz, the 2012 Honda Sports Award for Swimming after winning two individual and two relay titles at the NCAA championships, is the lone senior on this year's team. Swimmers like Pelton and Bootsma lead an impressive collection of younger talent that the Bears hope can continue to keep the program at the top of college swimming.
"Winning is of course the outcome you want, but you have to try to focus on getting better and the things you can control," Tran said. "Swimming is an individual sport but it's hard to swim by yourself," Tran said. "The support and help you give to each other is so important. That's the great things about college swimming. It's a dynamic you're never going to find by going pro or in a club."