AUBURN, Ala. — Last year at NCAAs, California’s Caitlin Leverenz was ahead entering the final 25 yards of the 200 breaststroke. But she was eventually caught by Minnesota’s Hayley Spencer and Texas A&M’s Breeja Larson.
On Saturday, Leverenz made sure that wasn’t going to happen twice.
“I went into it just swimming my own race,” Leverenz said. “I just tried not to think about where I was in relationship to the field and just think about going and seeing what I can do.”
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It wasn’t until after 100 yards into the race, when Leverenz finally took a peek and realized she was ahead. From there, she continued to extend her lead and eventually finish on top by more than two seconds, bettering her personal-best time and falling .01 seconds short of the American record.
Her first-place finish in that event added 20 more points to California’s lead, which the Bears held on to for their second consecutive national title.
Leverenz’ performance has improved immensely since last year when she did not win an individual title.
“Last year, I wasn’t really a player,” Leverenz said. “Last year, I was getting caught in the last 25 yards and this year I’m not.”
Her times haven’t just increased over the past year, but also the last couple weeks, already breaking her previous-best times that she recorded at the Pac-12 Championships.
This year, Leverenz took on the challenge. She became a leader on the team. She embraced the pressure and she capitalized.
“I knew I needed to score those points for my team,” Leverenz said. “I love putting the team on my back and know that the team is counting on me. I think it makes me swim faster.”
Individually Leverenz contributed 57 points to California’s team score, tied for the most at the meet. The Golden Bears won their second consecutive national title and third in four years.
With a group of seniors that have won three championships departing, California head coach Teri McKeever is looking forward to see how Leverenz responds during the offseason.
“She’s still got things to do and it will be interesting to see how her summer and senior year go,” McKeever said.
Leverenz, a junior, has never been prouder of her team and thinks this is where California belongs.
“I think this meet is just a testament of how great of a program we have become,” she said. “I think we are on the verge of becoming a dynasty.”