Felicia Lee may have thought Stanford women's swimming coach Greg Meehan was a taskmaster the way he insisted she get into the water despite recovering from shoulder surgery last year.
"I thought maybe I wouldn't have to practice as much," Lee said as the fourth-ranked Cardinal prepared for its final home meet of the season, a showdown with top-ranked California on Saturday. "He said 'get in the water and kick.' He wanted me to work on my weak points."
Lee rode a spin bike and continued kicking in the pool for three months while her shoulder healed.
"Without swimming a lap she got better as a swimmer," Meehan said. "You can see some of those results this season."
Lee was named Pac-12 Swimmer of the Month for January, winning all 14 events in which she competed. That spilled over into February when she won four events in Stanford's win over USC two weekends ago. She was also named Swimmer of the Month for November.
"She's incredibly competitive in everything she does on dry land and in the pool," Meehan said. "She challenges herself to be the best she can be."
Saturday's meet against the Golden Bears will feature a spectacular collection of athlete, including Cal freshman Missy Franklin, a four-time Olympic gold medalist from the London Games. She's already set the school record in the 200 free and ranks among the top 10 all-time at Cal in seven events. The Bears also have Elizabeth Pelton, the 2013 NCAA Swimmer of the Year.
The meet begins with diving at 8:45 a.m. at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center, with swimming events to start at 9:45 a.m., after the Cardinal (6-0 against Pac-12 teams, 9-0 overall) honors its seniors.
The Pac-12 Networks go live at 10 a.m., with Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken on the call.
"The seniors have all done an amazing job for our program," Meehan said. "They are really great people who made an impact. We want to honor them with a great battle and then it's on to the championship season."
Lee, Maya DiRado, Andie Taylor, Allison Arnold, Kirstie Chen, Stephanie Phipps, Kerrin Seymour and Alex Whitford will be honored in a brief ceremony.
Lineups have not been announced but there are several events that may produce extraordinary swims.
Franklin's 200-yard free time of 1:41.40 is the fastest in the nation this year. Stanford's Lia Neal, an Olympic bronze medalist, owns the third-best mark.
Franklin's top time of 47.42 in the 100 free beats Neal's time of 47.48 by the length of a fingernail. Stanford's Maddy Schaefer, who owns the nation's top time in the 50 free (21.78), is right behind in 47.75.
The 100 back could feature the day's most competitive race, with Cal's Pelton and Cindy Tran ranked third and fourth in the nation, just ahead of Lee. Franklin and fellow Cal Olympian Rachel Bootsma rank sixth and seventh, respectively.
DiRado has the nation's top time in the 200 IM (1:53.50) and is second in the 400 IM. At the NCAA meet, she was the national runner-up in the 200 IM as a freshman, the 200 back as a sophomore and the 400 IM last year. She also has three third-place finishes and is a 15-time All-American overall.
"These dual meets are a good way to see how tough you are," Lee said. "The rivalry between Stanford and Cal gets hyped up when we swim against each other. With Senior Day, it's going to be exciting."
Lee and Franklin, meanwhile, have competed against each other for many years.
"I've watched her grow up," Lee said. "She's the same person she's always been, even with the honors and awards."
Stanford finished eighth at last year's NCAA championship meet, a finish Meehan hopes to correct this time around and in the future.
The Cardinal has won eight national titles, but none since 1998. Stanford, which has been national runner-up on 10 other occasions, hopes to compete for a top-three finish next month.
"We don't have the depth to win an NCAA championship," Meehan said. "We are to the point that we're in the conversation. This senior class, down the round, 2105, 2016, will be able to look back at our success and know they're a big reason for that. They've set the standard for the way we compete, train and practice by how they have handled themselves."
There may not be another dual meet like Stanford vs. California anywhere else in the nation this season. In addition to being ranked among the four teams in the country, the schools have combined for 12 national titles.
Cal, meanwhile, boasts defending NCAA 200 free champ Rachael Acker from Gunn High. One of her teammates at Gunn, Julia Ama, swims for Stanford.
"If you look at the U.S. national team roster, it's littered with student-athletes from both Cal and Stanford," Meehan said. "It's going to be a great battle."