Stanford's streak has taken on a life of its own, providing both motivation and fear each season.
"You don't want to be the team that lost it, or the senior class that lost it," said Stanford senior Eugene Godsoe.
It most years, winning the Pac-10 title was a slam dunk for Stanford. Head coach Skip Kenney, however, recalled one year where his team had to win the final 400 free relay in order to steal away another title.
Kenney, however, couldn't remember the year of the meet. There have been simply too many team victories over the years.
This week, the No. 3-ranked Cardinal will be up against No. 1-ranked Arizona and No. 4 Cal, among others. The Bears feature sprinter Nathan Adrian, who won a gold medal on the USA's 400-meter free relay that won a gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. He is the reigning Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year.
Should Stanford make it 29 straight this week at the Belmont Olympic Plaza Pool in Long Beach, Kenney might not forget this one for some time. That's because of who is not swimming for the Cardinal — junior Austin Staab.
Staab left the team, and school, in midseason for personal reasons. In doing so, he left a huge hole to fill. He won the 100 fly at last season's NCAA Championships. At the 2009 Pac-10 meet, he won the 100 fly, took second in the 50 free and 100 free and swam on four relays — one winning and three taking second.
"Austin is a bigger hole than we've had in the past," Kenney said. "I've never had a team that depended on one guy so much."
Staab holds school records in the 200 free (1:32.71) and 100 fly (44.18), ranks second all-time in the 100 free (42.06) and No. 3 in the 50 free (18.96). He's also a member of the school record-holding 400 medley relay (3:06.43), along with Godsoe.
With Staab gone (he may return to school at a later date), Godsoe said Staab's points need to be absorbed by the 19 swimmers who will compete this week.
"I think the math of it is that we have to score 2 points each (extra) to make up for Austin," Godsoe said. "Two points, that's just moving up two spots. Definitely the hardest part of replacing Austin is on the relays."
Godsoe swam on two relays at last year's Pac-10 meet. This week he'll likely swim on four. Godsoe, for one, is no slouch. He's the defending champion in both the 100 and 200 backstrokes and ranks No. 2 all-time in school history in the 200 back (1:40.08) and No. 3 in the 100 back (45.49). He also is No. 5 all-time in the 100 fly (45.99), an event where he place fourth at Pac-10s a year ago.
Since having shoulder surgery his freshman year and missing much of the season, Godsoe has improved each year.
"The confidence levels have risen every year," he said. "I know my competitors now, how to swim against them and how to beat them."
Godsoe has improved to the point where he has passed some of the school's all-time greats like Olympians Jeff Rouse and Markus Rogan. Kenney would not be surprised if Godsoe breaks school records in both backstrokes at either the Pac-10 or NCAA meets.
"He's one of those guys who are really, really gifted," Kenney said. "He's a guy you can really count on."
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Godsoe arrived from Greensboro, N.C., knowing full well the tradition of Stanford swimming and with its backstrokers.
"At every point in Stanford history, there's a world-class backstroker," said Godsoe, who is close to joining that elite group.
Godsoe knows his role at Pac-10s, which is to swim to his potential and lead by example. Often, a great swim can provide a wave of momentum for a team. Not having Staab available also has been a motivating factor as Stanford seeks to keep its legendary streak alive.
Stanford also will be without diver Dwight Dumais, who has been out with a shoulder injury. He won the 1-meter springboard at Pac-10s last season. With Dumais out, Stanford was down to one diver, Brent Eichenseer, during last weekend's diving finals. Eichenseer finished third in the platform and 3-meter and fourth on the 1-meter board, matching his performance from last year.
Kenney said yet another factor will be the absence of the full-body suits that made historic waves the past two years with countless world records. Those suits have been banned in collegiate competition. The men are back to wearing the "jammers" or half suits that stretch from the waist to the ankle.
"How are swimmers going to make the adjustment?" Kenney questioned. "There is a difference in the suits. They (full-body) really affect speed into the wall and the breakout off the wall."
Kenney believes the change in suits might affect the freshmen, who probably have been wearing the full suits most of their young careers. That goes for his own freshmen, who will be counted upon more than ever to help keep The Streak alive.
"I really believe in this team, but we have to have a lot of help from the freshmen," Kenney said.
Among the first-year swimmers who rank among the team leaders are Aaron Wayne (50, 100, 200 free), Matt Swanston (100 fly), Matt Thompson (100, 200 fly, 100 breast, 200 IM, 400 IM). Thompson, in fact, leads the team in both IM as well as the 200 back.
Kenney, of course, will look to his veterans like junior John Criste, the school recordholder in the 100 breast; sophomore Bobby Bollier, the school recordholder in the 200 fly; and sophomore Chad La Tourette, who holds the school mark in the 1,650 free.
Sprinters like junior Alex Coville and senior David Dunford, plus sophomore breaststroker Curtis Lovelace and junior middle-distance standout David Mosko also will be counted upon for a lot of points.
Heading into the championships, Kenney wasn't planning on any special speeches to his team.
"I say less than I used to," he said. "Because of The Streak, they all know. They feel the pressure. (But), they all know what to do. The last thing I want to do is stand up and talk about that streak."
All Stanford needs to do is pull off another team title on Saturday night. That will say it all.
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