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Chrös McDougall | NCAA.com | March 23, 2014

Embracing the moment, Cal's Missy Franklin delivers

MINNEAPOLIS -- If there was anybody left on the pool dock Saturday night who Missy Franklin had not hugged, consider them the exception.

The perpetually bubbly Cal freshman shared a moment with just about anyone with a pulse during the three very full days at her first NCAA Division I Women's Swimming and Diving Championships

And we're not talking about the butt-out, shoulders-in, tap-on-the-back courtesy hugs that teenage girls are known to give out. These hugs are full out embraces: eyes shut, squeezed tight and followed by a playful laugh and earnest compliment.

Qualifying swimmers announced
If there is one thing for sure about Missy Franklin, it's that she appreciates life.

And that's why she was in Minneapolis this weekend.

Since winning five medals, four of them gold, as a 17-year-old at the 2012 Olympics in London, Franklin has been one of the brightest stars in her sport.

"I still can't believe that I am here," she said before the event while discussing the opportunities she's had since the Olympics.

Franklin, a Centennial, Colo. native, plans to compete for California through her sophomore season before turning pro and focusing on the 2016 Olympics. Hoping to maximize her short time as a Golden Bear, the swimmer got a full plate of experiences at her first NCAA championships.

Her competition included dominance in setting an American record, drama in orchestrating a come-from-behind relay win, humility in settling for second and third place in two individual events, and adversity in dealing with a disappointing team performance.

And through it all, she maintained the big smile, the enthusiasm -- with Franklin there is always enthusiasm -- and an unwavering commitment to college swimming and, particularly, her college team.

"I'm so proud of my Bears and how far we've come in one season," she said Saturday, after her team finished third behind Georgia and Stanford. "And even though we get knocked down, we get right back up and we keep fighting, and that's why I'm a Golden Bear, and that's why I'm so proud to be a part of this team."

To see evidence of Franklin's commitment, look no further than her program at the NCAA championships. The swimmer is an Olympic and world champion in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke, plus she holds the world record in the 200 back. Yet in Minneapolis, she swam in three freestyle races: the 100 yards, 200 yards and, notably, the grueling 500 yards.

"Honestly, I was going to swim wherever my team needed me to swim, and that was the 500," she said after finishing second in the event on Thursday, when Georgia sophomore Brittany MacLean snuck past her with a blazing final lap. "So I was up for the challenge."

Franklin had more success the next day in the tried and true 200 free, another event in which she won Olympic gold in 2012. She took the lead off her dive and finished with several feet of open water between her toes and the second-place finisher's hands. Franklin's time of 1 minute, 40.31 seconds set a new American record.

Franklin closed out her individual schedule on Saturday with a third-place finish in the 100 free.

Perhaps her most memorable race in Minneapolis might actually have been the 800 relay, one of four relays in which she swam. Swimming the anchor leg in Friday night's final event, Franklin dove into the water in third place, behind Stanford and more than two seconds behind Georgia.

"There's honestly no better feeling than going in behind as an anchor and knowing that you just have to do whatever it takes to catch up," she said.

And that's indeed what she did. The Olympian finished her leg in 1:40.08 to give Cal the win at 6:54.94. Georgia finished second in 6:55.09 and Stanford third in 6:55.62.

"There's nothing better than an awesome 800 free relay," Cal coach Teri McKeever said.

Of course, after seven events in three days (and don't forget prelims), Franklin also got to experience another staple of the NCAA championships: exhaustion. Although big programs at championship meets are nothing new for Franklin, the Olympics and world championships spread the events over more than twice as many days as the college championships.

So there it was on Saturday night, minutes after Franklin's final race of the event, the 400 free relay, that the energy finally waned a bit. As Franklin waited with her teammates for the awards ceremony to start, she was smiling as usual, but for once it appeared she actually had to summon the effort to do so.

Before you knew it, though, the energy was back, the smile was effortless and Franklin was giving more hugs and earnest, enthusiastic congratulations.

"Hey, you feel a little tired after one of these things don't you?" Georgia senior associate head coach Harvey Humphries called out as she walked away from their post-meet hug.

"No, I've got all the energy in the world," she shot back, seemingly sarcastically, but with her enthusiasm one can never be sure.

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