With the fall season having come to a close, CalBears.com recently sat down with women’s swimming & diving head coach Teri McKeever to get her thoughts on the year to date and what she’s looking forward to most when the team returns to action after the New Year.
Cal is ranked No. 1 in the polls and most recently competed at the AT&T Winter Nationals in early December where the Bears won nine races, including four of five relays, set a pair of school records, and established 12 new entries into Cal’s all-time top-10 performer list.
The Bears return to action with home meets vs. Arizona State and Arizona Jan. 24-25 to begin the Pac-12 dual season.
What would you say has been the highlight of the fall?
I think the fall was very busy with so much more travel than we’ve had in the past. I think it was the group’s resiliency of taking one thing at a time, doing your best, evaluating it and moving on. That’s a really important skill, to continue to improve. I felt like that was challenged a bit more than it had been in the past. It’s something we’re going to be able to build on as we move forward.
On having swimmers compete in off-events throughout the fall?
I think that’s something normally I’d like to do. A lot of these women come in and have their “ego events.” If you just focus on your ego event for a number of years, there’s always a possibility that it’s not going as well as you would like. If you can focus on some different things and expand opportunities to improve and experiment and succeed and fail, to me, that’s how you build confidence. You’re exposed to places where you’re not as comfortable in various situations. We’re obviously doing very well in the backstroke and some of the freestyle events. The longer distances and even the breaststroke aren’t quite as robust. We’re kind of challenging people in those roles. With the relays, we’ve have a number of different opportunities to see how individuals respond. As we move down the road, we can make sure we have the right women in the right place.
How is the team’s chemistry four months into the year?
In the past, we’ve had good leadership from Amanda Sims to Erica Dagg to Caitlin Leverenz last year. Caroline (Piehl) is stepping and being a leader, as are (co-captains) Melanie (Klaren) and Catherine (Breed). From a performance perspective, Elizabeth (Pelton) and Rachel Bootsma have really performed beyond their years. And we have swimmers like Missy (Franklin) or Marina (Garcia) who have international experience. I think the way the team is going to reach its potential is through lots of different people meeting the need of leadership and filling holes on different days and different parts of the year. We’ve spent a lot of time working together. That competition internally is either going to let us achieve new heights or take us away from our potential. I think talking about that, looking at it and challenging one another will make sure that energy, passion and commitment are elevating the group and elevating individuals, rather than getting into more of a class system. Everybody’s got their role on how to make the greater good better. For some of them, it’s going to be on a relay. For some, it’s going to be in the classroom. For some, it’s going to be in recruiting, and for others it’s going to be with their leadership and work ethic and presenting our program in a positive way. My job and (associate head coach) Kristen’s (Cunnane) job is to acknowledge those things, which are as important as who broke the school record.
What is the impact of the high level of competition against each other faced every day in practice?
I think there are very few places in the country that have that and very few times in your life that you’re going to have that scenario. That’s what makes Cal special. You have it in the classroom and have it in the pool. It’s important to make sure that you are inspired and motivated rather than shying away from it. If you’re going to shy away from it, you’re not going to be very successful here.
How has Missy Franklin adapted to the team?
When you bring someone in with the type of credentials that she has, a lot of how she was going to fit into the team was going to be about her more than it would be anything that I would do or what’s going on away from the team setting. Missy made it very clear that she wanted to be part of a team, and her actions have represented that day in and day out to her coaches, to her teammates and to the larger swimming community. Like you would expect, she’s a great teammate. I think that’s what has inspired the general community, and I think that’s what’s inspiring her teammates here. She’s drawing a lot of attention that we’re all benefiting from. The crowds at the meets have been great, and to see the kids get so excited to see her and the entire time. All the girls do autographs after the meets. I think part of our responsibility that our program has in the limelight right now is to give back. It’s not just Missy giving back; it’s everyone giving back. It sends a message of who you are and what you’re about individually and as a program. That’s the best thing we have going. It doesn’t happen without leadership internally. It can’t just be from the coaches. It’s an ethic that this is what the program’s about. These are a group of women that are passionate about what Cal swimming should look like and are willing to hold each other to that standard.
What are the benefits of the upcoming training trip to Hawaii?
We like go somewhere where it’s a little warm and can take advantage of using the oceans. We now have a set routine that allows us, from a working perspective, not to have to spend a lot of time and energy on logistics. We have those set in place so the energy can be about getting better and spending time together. Just as important as the work is the time to be together outside of the pool, for the team to see Kirsten and me in a different light. To get away from our day-to-day surroundings so that we can focus on each other has been really valuable and enjoyable. It sets us up nicely for our five big competitive Pac-12 meets, the conference meet and NCAA’s. It’s a nice way to take on the new year.
Based on what you’ve seen so far, what are the team’s expectations for the rest of the year?
Hopefully, the women respond to their internal expectations and the external expectations and just work on figuring out how to be better than they were the day before – getting better in the pool, getting better out of the pool. I think there are so many opportunities to do that, and that’s really their responsibility. It’s a group that’s willing to hold and support each other to that standard. The synergy of the group is really at an optimal level right now. I think that the training trip is going to help bring that up another notch and have that momentum sustained through conference and NCAA’s.