Oct. 2, 2007
2007-08 California Women's Swimming Team Preview: Excitement is brewing at Cal
There is a look on Teri McKeever's face that reveals an exuberant and optimistic outlook for the 2007-08 season. The 16th-year head coach has directed the California women's swimming and diving program to new heights and is often regarded in the coaching circle as the sports' influential innovator. Because of McKeever's unique training methods, Cal women's swimming has produced five Pac-10 Swimmers of the Year, including three-time winner Natalie Coughlin and 11 consecutive Top 10 NCAA finishes, including a program-best third-place finish in 2007.
What makes McKeever so unique is her ability to teach and train raw and undeveloped athletes into world champions and leaders in the community. With a roster that features nine newcomers, eight of whom are freshman, McKeever once again has a new challenge of assembling a team that can compete for a Pac-10 and national championship, as well as prepare individuals to battle for spots in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Judging by her demeanor, McKeever welcomes that test with open arms.
"What excites me about this year is that it's a really nice mix of very experienced returnees with Emily Silver (Free), Dana Vollmer (Free/Fly) and Rachel Ridgeway (Free/Fly), as well as significant contributors, with a real strong influx of a lot of potential," said McKeever. "We have that potential with Amada Sims (Fly/Back), Tara Thomas (Fly/Free) and Madison Kennedy (Free). Erica Dagg (Back) is going to surprise a lot of people in her career here at Cal, and Hannah Wilson (Fly/Free), who is a little unknown in the States, will bring some international experience to the team.
McKeever, however, is quick to point out that the keys to a successful season will be a middle group, which will need to be ready to take that next step. "Alexandra Ellis (Breast) will step in as the lead breaststroker," said McKeever. "Her competition in the World University Games this summer was real significant. Heather White (Back/IM) had a great summer, while Emily Verdin (Back/IM) continues to heal and progress. Lauren Rogers (Back/IM) had a great year which culminated in a Pac-10 title, and Blake Hayter (Free) stepped in as a freshman and made significant contributions. Lauren Boyle (Free) was a late arrival to the American college system, which took some time getting used to, but now she has her feet on the ground and is familiar with the NCAAs."
Other key individuals that should be making an impact are Courtney Eronemo (IM/Fly), Natalie La Rochelle (IM), Amanda Larson (Free), Kelly Stravers (Free/Fly) and Jenna Wesley (Free). Rounding out the talented freshman class are Elise Etem (Fly), Kelsey Hoff (IM), Ellie Monobe (Breast) and Sara Sun (Free).
Under the direction of second-year diving coach Tom Davidson, Cal returns three solid divers - Samantha Young, Stephanie Whalen and Kristen Duffel -- mixed in with two newcomers - Aimee O'Rourke and Laura Sanford.
With lofty goals set for the Cal program, McKeever also faces the task of preparing her swimmers for the opportunity to reach for their international dreams, such as the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. "This Olympic year will bring a lot of focus and attention and notoriety to the sport," said McKeever. "We have women that are going to make the Olympics and have women that are going to win medals in Beijing. It gives us (as coaches) kind of a two-fold focus."
The 2007 campaign was one of Cal's finest under McKeever's tutelage. The Golden Bears claimed five national titles, set three new American Records at the NCAA Championships and boasted 10 All-Americans.
"We are moving closer to a national title possibility," McKeever added. "It's exciting to be legitimately talking about that possibility. I'm proud of this group of women that is focused on personal excellence - in the pool, in the classroom, the way you conduct yourself and interact with teammates. It's about being the best Teri McKeever, being the best Dana Vollmer, the best Emily Silver. If you are really engaged in that process, then you have achieved success."
For a coach who persistently strives to find new ways of having her team reach ultimate success, McKeever also continues to attract women that are interested in contributing to that type of environment. "Whether you're an NCAA qualifier, Olympic qualifier or a world champion, you have a responsibility to contribute to that environment of personal excellence," said McKeever. "That works different for all of the women on this team. One of our challenges is to keep motivating each of those women to bring that to the table day in and day out."
McKeever is no stranger to displaying leadership in and out of the pool. In 2004 she became the first woman to be named to a U.S. Olympic swimming staff, and in 2006, McKeever also became the first woman to be named a head U.S. swimming coach of an international major competition at the Pan Pacific Championships. "Leadership has to come from all directions," said McKeever. "There is a time for the head coach to step up and lead there is other times as a head coach to take a step back and see who is going to lead, who the team is going to follow. One of the important life skills we teach is that a great leader knows how to lead and how to follow in a way that supports and encourages. There is a fairly extensive leadership structure within the program. For any organization to reach its maximum potential, it can't be just from the deck. It's got to be from the locker room, from the weight room, in the training room, in the dorm rooms."
McKeever's vision for the program is based on the idea of getting better every day, and being engaged in a process of learning. "There is a real difference as a coach being a teacher rather than a trainer," said McKeever. "I hope I am creating and managing and facilitating an environment where there is teaching going on. As an athlete, it's about being a master of your craft. It's not about athletes doing the same thing over and over expecting to get different results. It's really important to do new things and suggest new ideas and listen. I think a good coach listens to their athletes. It's more of a partnership -- their role in the program is to coach me to be the best coach for them. My teaching responsibilities are twofold - to coach the group and to coach 23 individuals. I think we have a coaching staff that acknowledges that those are different tasks and are willing to take both on."
The pieces are in place for this team to achieve ultimate success this season: a possible conference crown, a national championship, and sending a select few to the Olympics. The bar is certainly raised high, but the excitement level is even higher.