Written by Caroline Deisley, USC blog contributor
All eyes may be on Olympic sensation Missy Franklin and the other tough Pac-12 competitors this weekend as the Trojans host both the No. 1 ranked Cal Bears and the No. 4 ranked Stanford Cardinal, but for seniors Kasey Carlson, Stina Gardell and Meghan Hawthorne this weekend means much more than who they are competing against.
As this weekend marks the seniors' final home meet, the three reminisced on some of their favorite memories. Carlson recalled all the NCAA Championships and all the meets that came down to the wire. Hawthorne jokingly remembered the times she and Carlson spent together as freshmen in the dorms. Gardell thought about all the girls that she does not know if she will ever see again when she moves back to Sweden. All three expressed tremendous relief that they won't have to get up for 5:45 a.m. practices.
"I just want people to remember me as I will remember them," said Gardell.
"We've been through it all together," added Hawthorne.
Though there may be strong sentiments as they complete their final season, the seniors are focused on their goals and the team goals now more than ever. "We're so much more invested this year," declared Hawthorne. "We've learned over the past three years what needs to be done to accomplish our goals. So now it's our time to make a legacy here."
These senior swimmers will certainly leave a legacy on USC Swimming as they came in and immediately turned the program around finishing in the top three at the NCAA Championships in 2011 and 2012 before falling to seventh last year.
Gardell said, "I really hope that's what we leave behind. I hope that they recognize the culture we've created around USC Swimming, that we are, and should always be a top three competitor."
Kasey Carlson added, "I've learned to lead by example. That's the most important thing. You learn through experience and as seniors we're the most experienced on the team. However, I also learn something new every day and try to make myself better every day. It's what I love about this sport, this school and this coaching staff."
Carlson will leave behind an impressive personal resume as well since she is currently the nation's best swimmer in the top 100y free (47:22), second-best in the 100y breast (58.61) and third in the 50y free (21.90). She's also the Pac-12 defending champion in the 100y breast, an 11-time All-American and holds two individual and four relay USC records.
"The history of USC athletics is so insurmountable that if I can get my niche in that would be awesome," said Carlson. "Records are made to be broken."
Just because they are focused on finishing what they started as freshmen does not mean these senior swimmers do not remember losing to Stanford last year in the Pac-12 Championship by a mere 20-point difference.
Gardell reminisced on the loss explaining how they were at the same restaurant as the Stanford team which meant they listened to their rival celebrate the victory all night. However, she emphatically said, "This year it's not going to happen again."
"It's been four years in the making. They are two very good teams but we're also a very good team ourselves," added Hawthorne. "I'm excited to see how our girls are going to do. It's going to be a dogfight but it's exciting to cap it off competing against these girls that we've been battling for the past four years."
This weekend will certainly provide NCAA Championship-like excitement as it will preview the nation's top swimmers. Between the three teams, there are six swimmers who hold the top times in individual events and three team relays that hold the top times as well. On top of that, the three teams feature nine individual events and another six relays that boast a top four time.
"Anything can happen and we're hoping to come out with two wins," said Hawthorne. "However, we know that we will see them again at the Pac-12 and the NCAA Championships."
Come out and support these seniors and the rest of the USC Women's Swimming team as they take on Cal on Friday at 3 p.m. and Stanford on Saturday at noon at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center.