Pelton leads Cal's youth movement
Golden Bears fab frosh power squad to second place finish
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Call them the fabulous freshmen of Cal women's swimming.
If the Golden Bears hadn't already convinced the college swimming world of their bright future, then Elizabeth Pelton drove home the point Saturday night at the Women's Division I Swimming and Diving Championships. Pelton smashed the American, NCAA, championship meet and U.S. Open records in the 200-yard backstroke, winning the event in 1:47.84. And it may not last long. She had set the American record in the same event three weeks ago.
In three individual events, Pelton won one and finished runner-up to Olympians in the other two. She was named the Swimmer of the Meet. No other swimmer matched those performances.
"Elizabeth is definitely experienced and decorated coming in, and very versatile. Just an exceptional young lady," Cal coach Teri McKeever said.
Pelton was just a part of a powerful freshman class which helped lead Cal to a second-place finish behind Georgia at the national championships. Cal was third in the Pac-12 Championships. Of the 12 Cal swimmers who qualified for the national championships, five were freshmen.
Pelton wasn't alone at the top of the podium. Rachel Bootsma, another Cal freshman who was on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team in London, won the 100 backstroke and finished second in the 100 butterfly. Both Pelton and Bootsma also swam in four relays, and Cal was in the top five in all the relay races Pelton and Bootsma were in.
Rachael Acker, another freshman, finished third in the 800 freestyle and sixth in the 100 free.
And if that youth movement isn't enough, Cal will add five-time Olympic medalist Missy Franklin next year. Franklin, a high school senior in Colorado, accepted a scholarship to Cal this past fall.
Pelton is looking forward to seeing what all this youth power can accomplish.
"I really am. A lot of people just want to do the best times and stuff, but I think that this group could potentially make the next break-through in women's swimming. Just swim times that have never been seen before," she said.
Franklin will join a program that has a deep national and international tradition. Natalie Coughlin, a former Cal swimmer, won 12 Olympic medals over three Olympic Games. Current senior Caitlin Leverentz won two consecutive national titles in the 200 individual medley and won a bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Head coach Teri McKeever was head coach for the 2012 U.S. Olympics women's swim team.
"We've had some amazing women through our program," McKeever said. "Fortunate enough that a handful of them, Dana Vollmer (four-time Olympic medalist), Natalie Coughlin, are still around and can kind of mentor. … That's their responsibility in the program, to help the new ones come in and understand what it means and have pride in what we've built."
It doesn't take long to find that tradition. Bootsma and Pelton wore Golden Bear logos on their faces while racing. Both are fully aware of the loaded lineup that will happen with the arrival of Franklin.
"It's going to be a fun four years," Bootsma said. "They are all competitors."
There were other up-and-comers on the national stage this week. Florida freshman Sinead Russell finished third in the historic 200 backstroke, followed by Southern Cal freshman Kendyl Stewart and Indiana freshman Brooklyn Snodgrass. Another Florida freshman, Jessica Thielmann, placed sixth in the 1,650 freestyle.
Pelton was impressive all week. She had the best time in the 200 backstroke Saturday morning, leading up to record swim in the finals. She finished runner-up to six-time Olympic medalist Allison Schmitt of Georgia in the 200 freestyle, but pushed Schmitt to the final few feet. She finished second in the 200 IM, trailing only Leverentz. She won the 200 IM and 200 back at the Pac-12 Championships and was named swimmer of the meet.
"She really bought into the team concept and has made people like Caitlin better, really elevated our training environment," McKeever said of Pelton. "I'm thrilled that she chose Cal to continue her career."
Despite all this success, two-time defending national champ Cal lost the 2013 national title to Georgia. That was a point not lost on Pelton late Saturday night.
"It does," she said with a determined look on her face, "leave a lot for next year."