Two summers ago, 17-year-old Missy Franklin introduced herself to the world as the United States’ biggest swimming phenom since Michael Phelps. After winning five medals (four gold) and setting two world records at the 2012 London Olympics, she sat down for a delightfully bubbly interview with NBC’s Bob Costas, which, according to my lengthy internet research, has unfortunately been removed from the Internet since.
But I still remember watching her mention to Costas that her top three college choices were USC, Cal and Georgia (in no particular order).
I immediately perked up — as I’m sure USC swimming and diving coach Dave Salo (who is also a U.S. Olympic women’s swim team assistant coach) did, too. With all the athletic excellence showcased at USC, it can be hard for the swimming and diving teams to capture the attention of the Trojan faithful — even though the men’s and women’s teams have claimed a combined 10 NCAA championships.
But if Franklin did end up attending USC, each home meet had the potential to draw fans from all over Los Angeles — and more importantly, build upon the women’s singular NCAA title won in 1997.
Alas, that wouldn’t come to fruition. A few months after the Olympics, during her senior year in high school, Franklin chose Cal — which made sense, despite the fact she was born down the road in Pasadena. The Golden Bears had won the 2011 and 2012 NCAA Women’s championships while the Women of Troy had placed third in both. The decision would also allow Franklin to follow in the footsteps of her favorite athlete and fellow backstroke master Natalie Coughlin, a Cal alumna.
This season, Franklin’s first collegiate campaign, things have played out about as expected. Though USC was ranked No. 1 to begin the season, Cal has surged behind Franklin to claim the top spot in the polls with an undefeated record. Meanwhile, the Women of Troy have fallen to No. 5 — but there’s plenty of reason to believe USC could hand the Bears their first loss of the 2013-14 season and prove that they don’t need Franklin to compete for their first women’s national title in 17 years.
First off, the Women of Troy are undefeated in dual-meets this season, too. They also handily won the SMU Classic over No. 7 North Carolina and No. 14 Louisville, among other schools. Their average margin of victory hasn’t been as impressive as Cal’s — hence the drop in the polls — but in dual meets, a victory is a victory.
And to counter Franklin, USC has eight reigning All-American swimmers. Though Franklin holds the nation’s top times this season in the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle, USC senior Kasey Carlson set the fastest time in the 100-yard free (ahead of Franklin), the second-fastest in the 100-yard breast and the third-fastest in the 50-yard free. All of USC’s freestyle relays are in the top four in the country, and the 200-yard and 400-yard free relays have set school records.
The Women of Troy could actually own a sizable home-pool advantage on Friday to help their cause, too. It’s the first home meet of the season at the new Uytengsu Aquatics Center since classes have been in session, and Franklin’s presence is sure to bring some extra spectators. And while every American probably wants to see the sport’s poster child succeed, it’d be extra sweet for USC fans if their squad could pull off an upset over their NorCal rivals.
Last year, No. 1 USC stormed into the Golden Bears’ home pool and left with a thrilling 155-145 victory. But the Women of Troy would end up finishing just seventh in the NCAA Championships with 291 points, well behind second-place Cal (393) and champion Georgia (477).
If the Women of Troy want to let this year’s contenders know that they can improve on that mark, they’ll have to make a statement by beating the Bears — or at least hanging close — on Friday.
And if USC does pull off the feat, Franklin and the Bears could enter the Pac-12 Tournament next month as slight underdogs – a position that the Women of Troy have gotten used to over the past few years. After their meets this weekend (against Cal on Friday at 3 p.m. and No. 4 Stanford on Saturday at noon), we’ll know if they’re ready to surpass Franklin and Cal onto the highest step of the podium.
Will Laws is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. He is also the Assistant Managing Editor of the Daily Trojan. His column “Laying Down the Laws” runs every other Friday. To comment on this story, visit dailytrojan.com or email Will at firstname.lastname@example.org.