UCLA swim and dive teams to face undefeated Cal and Stanford

Junior Lauren Hall has been gaining confidence this season and will likely be UCLA's biggest challenge to Cal's Julia Smit in the 400-meter individual medley.

Junior Lauren Hall has been gaining confidence this season and will likely be UCLA's biggest challenge to Cal's Julia Smit in the 400-meter individual medley. UCLA Athletics

The competition that UCLA’s swim and dive team (5-1, 2-1 Pac-10) will face this weekend in undefeated Pac-10 foes Cal and Stanford is daunting, to say the least.

Cal (4-0, 2-0), ranked fifthin the nation, attempting to defend its Pac-10 and NCAA Championships from 2009, boasting a roster stacked with sprinters from last year’s team. No. 4 Stanford (6-0, 2-0) is hoping its balance and experience could ultimately lead the Cardinal to dethroning the Bears at the NCAAs in March.

Needless to say, the next two days pose the two biggest challenges UCLA will face in dual-meets all year. But for UCLA coach Cyndi Gallagher, the stiff competition comes with the territory.

“This is Pac-10, elite, fast swimming,” Gallagher said. “We’re the best conference in the nation for swimming.”

Stanford comes into today’s meet at Spieker Aquatics Center led by seniors and 2008 Olympic medalists Elaine Breeden and Julia Smit. Breeden won the 200-meter butterfly at the NCAAs last year, while Smit, who Gallagher described as “probably the best all-around swimmer in the nation,” won the 200- and 400-meter individual medley at the NCAAs.

Gallagher had nothing but praise for Smit, and said she is looking forward to the competition.

“You want to compete with a Julia Smit,” she said. “She’s not unbeatable. She may seem unbeatable, but that’s what makes you better, maybe you’ll get a little closer to her. Fast swimmers make you a faster swimmer.”

Cal, who will face off against the Bruins on Saturday, has long been known for its excellent sprinters. The Bears are led by sophomore Sara Isakovic, the silver medalist in the 200 free at the Beijing Olympics, and junior Amanda Sims, the defending NCAA 100 fly champion.

UCLA will look to juniors Brittany Beauchan and Lauren Hall to lead the team this week. Beauchan will try to improve her Pac-10-leading times in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke, while Hall, whose 400 IM time of 4:11.12 ranks eighth overall in the nation this season, will look to challenge the Cardinal’s Smit.

“(Beauchan is) not through yet, that’s just the beginning of where she’s (going to go),” Gallagher said. “Lauren has gotten more confidence (this year). She’s figuring out that she can swim with anybody at anytime, and you hope that everybody else gets that same kind of confidence.”

UCLA’s four divers, a smaller team than usual, have shown no lack of depth this year. Juniors Karina Silva and Laura Winn and freshman Maggy Boyd all have posted NCAA Zone Qualifying Scores. Dive coach Tom Stebbins believes this week freshman Michelle Vale will do the same, though he admits his team also has their work cut out for them.

“Michelle has really been very, very good,” Stebbins said. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she got her zone scores this weekend. That’s certainly a goal of ours and for her.”

Though the odds seem stacked against her team, nothing seems to faze Gallagher.

“There’s no excuse not to swim fast at dual meets,” she said. “That’s what we do, and if we ever want to win a meet that’s what you have to do.”

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