Wins are tough to come by in the conference of champions, especially when the other team in the pool is University of California, Berkeley, the defending men’s conference champion and Olympian powerhouse.
Although, the Sun Devils may not have won the meet, the small victories were the real wins for ASU against a robust Golden Bears squad. These small victories came in the form of a distance sweep and breastroke individual event wins for women; and strong relays for the men.
“Since I’ve been here, this has been our best men and women’s meet against Cal, so we’re moving in the right direction,” said ASU Head Coach Bob Bowman.
As the women fell 190-110, the men 178-118, the wins came first in the women’s 1000 freestyle, where sophomore Emma Nordin led the charge with a winning time of 9:59.85. Behind her were sophomores Kendall Dawson, Caitlyn Wilson, and Bentley Hulshof to give the Devils a 1-2-3-4 sweep. Nordin did not dominate from the starting horn, however. Cal freshman Cassidy Bayer broke out in 26.66 seconds, where Nordin edged closer with each turn. At the 350-yard mark, Nordin took the lead, and held a 4 second lead after the halfway point of the race.
Junior Silja Kansakoski trailed Cal freshman Ema Rajic by nearly a half second after the 50-yard mark of the 100 breaststroke, but the Sun Devil displayed impressive closing speed to pass Rajic and win the event by almost a full second (1:02.12).
Similarly, sophomore Nora Deleske trailed both Rajic and ASU freshman Lana Berry after the first split of the 200 breastroke, but took the lead from Rajic at the midway point. Deleske saved her speed for the back half of the race, which she won in 2:16.21. Not far behind were Silja Kansakoski (3rd) and Lana Berry (4th).
For the ASU men, wins were harder to come by. The Devils were pitted against freshman Reece Whitley, the highly sought-after 2018 recruit; NCAA individual event(s) champion senior Andrew Seliskar; conference champion junior Pawel Sendyk; and senior Nick Norman, holder of the 10th fastest time in the nation this season in the 1000 freestyle.
Bowman praised Cal, and encouraged his swimmers to use Friday’s meet as an opportunity:
“It’s just a great educational experience for these guys, now they’re in the pool with the very top level, there is no team in this country better than Cal,” he said. “It’s different than when you’re watching video or looking at times on a piece of paper.”
Among ASU’s highlights was junior Zach Poti, who had his work cut out for him in the 100 backstroke. Flanking him were sophomore Daniel Carr, who competed at the 2016 Olympic Trials, and All-American sophomore Bryce Mefford. Poti edged the two at the second turn, clocking just a one-tenth-of-a-second lead over Carr. In the latter half of the race, Carr and Mefford blasted ahead to finish 1stand 2nd. Poti finished with a season dual-meet best of 47.44, an NCAA B-cut.
After the meet, Poti talked highly of his teammates for their high-energy performance:
“As a team, we stuck together really well,” Poti said. “Last year and the year before, we really didn’t come anywhere close to Cal, we were so far behind them, and this year there was a lot more positive energy from everybody.”
Krista Kolkebeck, who opened the door for junior Cierra Runge to move up the Devils 200 freestyle relay into second place for the event had a similar outlook.
“As a team, we stuck together really well,” Kolkebeck said. “Last year and the year before, we really didn’t come anywhere close to Cal, we were so far behind them, and this year there was a lot more positive energy from everybody.”
Senior Kolkebeck will see her last meet at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center on Saturday, when the Devils face off against defending women’s 2-peat NCAA champion Stanford.
“There’s a lot of emotions, I’m super excited, at the same time I’m super sad,” Kolkebeck said. “I’ve been here four years and I’ve had so many great memories here and it’s crazy to see how far we’ve come.”
Kolkebeck and the other eight seniors will be honored prior to Saturday’s 12pm meet vs. the Cardinal.