For months, Cal has been sailing through choppy and unfamiliar waters. However, between a victory last month against USC and the addition of a home dual meet against Stanford this Friday, the Bears have been offered some reprieve.
“We’re just very happy to be able to get out there and race again,” said Ryan Hoffer, a senior on the Cal men’s swim and dive team. “We are happy to be able to swim and stay healthy.”
Hoffer swims the free, fly and back, and he is a staple on Cal’s relay teams. On Feb. 19, Hoffer and his teammates will host the Cardinal for a dual meet at Spieker Aquatics Complex in the blue and gold’s second scored meet this season. Due to COVID-19 protocols, no spectators will be permitted to attend the meet, but fans are encouraged to follow along virtually via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
The Bears swam against the Cardinal twice last November in nonscoring meets. However, since then, both teams have undergone several months of training.
Stanford opened its season Feb. 6 with a massive victory over Pacific, just one week after Cal took down USC. The win against the Trojans gave the Bears a confidence boost that they will surely carry with them as they enter the pool with the Cardinal.
In particular, the 200-yard breaststroke will likely be a race to watch. Against USC, Cal standout junior Reece Whitley swam a 1:53.75 to win the event. But he’ll have a challenge on his hands — Stanford junior Daniel Roy clocked in at 1:53.09 Feb. 6, and his personal record is a blinding 1:51.64. Whitley stands at 6’9’’, while Roy measures in at 5’8’’. Despite the height difference, the swimmers appear to be quite evenly matched. With no screaming spectators in the stands, both Whitley and Roy will have to rely on internal motivation if they hope to come out on top.
“The team, in general, is in a really good spot right now. The meet against USC got everyone fired up. We’re actually competing; we’re not just racing ourselves,” Hoffer said. “We are going against another team and trying to win.”
Despite pool closures and uncertain scheduling, the Bears have managed to stay tightknit through the Zoom era. Many of the members on Cal’s squad are not only teammates but housemates as well.
“If anything, this quarantine has brought us closer together. I live in a house with nine guys, and we are all in this together. We can’t expose one and another by doing outside things with other people. We have our own little bubble we have to stick to,” Hoffer said. “Being together was all we had. Frankly, I love that team environment. Cal really has that championship mentality.”
For Hoffer, that championship mentality means striving to get better every day despite the isolating circumstances. In a typical year, a senior athlete has four years of experience and wisdom to share with younger teammates. However, training and competing amid the pandemic, the Bears are swimming in uncharted waters. Even though this season is different than any other, Hoffer is still determined to lead by example.
“Especially our freshman, you’ve really got to give it to them. We’ve put a lot on their shoulders, given that this is not a normal year by any means,” Hoffer said. “Our senior class is trying to bring a sense of normalcy to the team, a sense of camaraderie.”
Hoffer has spent the past months working hard in the pool, honing his positive mentality and providing encouragement and guidance for his teammates. But when it comes time for him to dive into his lane, he has one purpose and one purpose only.
“I’m just trying to win. I’m trying to get out there and race the guy next to me,” Hoffer said. “That’s what gets me excited. That’s what I’m doing here. That’s why I’m on this team. I’m trying to win.”
Sarah Siegel covers men’s swim and dive and is a deputy blog editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.