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Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Relay performances spark Cal swimming


The NCAA swimming and diving championships this year were as sweet as milk and honey for California, which swept both the men's and women's titles.

It was the first championship for the Cal men's team in 31 years, and ESPN.com caught up with Cal coach David Durden to talk about what was a memorable weekend in Minneapolis for his No. 1-ranked Golden Bears:

Chris Low: Has it sunk in yet that your team accomplished something that hasn't been done at Cal in more than 31 years?
David Durden: It was a blast, and we were reminded how long it had been by all of our alums who were out there cheering us on. I don't know who was more excited at the end of the meet, us or our alums.

Low: How many of them were there?
Durden: We had 66 swimming alums who made the trip, and I'm talking everybody from recent graduates to guys who graduated as far back as 1975. It was a great mix. We had a dinner on Saturday night, and we had somewhere around 30 Olympic medalists in the room and some of our most distinguished alumni, including Matt Biondi. It was great to be a part of that.

Low: Going into the meet, what did you feel like was most important for your team?
Durden: We just had to go in and swim, and I know that sounds really simplistic. There were some key events, the 100 breaststroke [won by Damir Dugonjic] and the 200 breaststroke [Martti Aljand was second], and the relays were crucial for us [Cal won three of the five]. But we just had to go in and swim. As the competition nears, the expectations mount and you start to hear people saying that Cal's supposed to win and is going to win. We had more than 150 people out there to watch us, so you start to feel that a little bit. What we tried to do was to get our guys to relax and realize what a blast this whole experience was.

Low: Is there any way to overemphasize how important the relays were?
Durden: No, and one of the ones we didn't win, the 800 relay, might have been the catalyst for us. It's not our strongest event by any stretch of the imagination, but for those four guys to step up and get fifth was huge. It was Tom Shields' third race of the night, and he did a phenomenal job of leading that race off, and the other three guys did just enough to get that fifth-place finish. That gave us a great deal of confidence coming out of the middle day, and then Nathan Adrian was the hammer for us on our 400 freestyle relay team to clinch it on the final day. [Adrian also won his third straight 100 freestyle title and was named the meet's top swimmer.]

Low: How satisfying was it to finally break through after finishing second a year ago?
Durden: This was one of those deals that was four years in the making when I first got to campus and all the guys were new. We were all going on this journey together and didn't know what the destination was going to look like. I'm extremely grateful to that group of guys back in 2007 and 2008 that went along that path with me. They could have easily gone the other way and fought me every step of the way, but they didn't. They helped to drive this ship to where we are today.

Low: When you win one championship, the next question becomes: Can you win another? What are the chances for a repeat?
Durden: Ask me again in December. Next year, we have more on our plate than just the NCAA meet. We have the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games in 2012, and that's where much of the focus will be.