2003-04 Women's Swimming & Diving Outlook

Oct. 6, 2003

With an eighth place finish at the 2003 NCAA Women's Swimming and Diving Championships, California once again proved that it is one of the Top 10 teams in the nation.

However, the 2003-04 Golden Bear squad is setting the bar higher this season and has its sights on making the move from the Top 10 into the Top 5.

Cultivating a top-notch program is not a problem for Cal's leader, head coach Teri McKeever. In fact, in seven of her 11 years in Berkeley, McKeever has directed the Bears to Top 10 national finishes. This season, backed with a new assistant coach in Whitney Hite, McKeever's expectation is for continued improvement for each swimmer, a key ingredient in the process of succeeding as a team.

'Our team goals are to continue to strive for improvement and to embrace the journey of being on a collegiate team,' said McKeever. 'Every year brings unique situations that we'll work through to develop more as individuals and as a group to accomplish our goals and build upon our successes.'

Helping to aid Cal in building a foundation for success is Hite who most recently served as an assistant coach at the University of Georgia. At UGA, Hite helped the Bulldogs' women's team to three straight national championships ('99-01). Hite also enjoyed success as a student-athlete at Texas. As a sprint freestyler for the Longhorns', Hite was a member of Texas' 1996 National Championship team.

'Whitney has won national titles both as an athlete and as a coach, and he will use that experience to help us with what steps we need to take to also win a national title,' said McKeever. 'Additionally, Whitney has very solid technical skills and has already had a positive impact on our swimmers.'

Gone from this season's team are freestyler Michelle Harper and Olympic gold medallist breaststroker Staciana Stitts. The graduated seniors will be missed, as both were All-Americans. However, Cal's three-time NCAA Swimmer of the Year Natalie Coughlin returns for her final season as a Golden Bear, and she, along with six other All-Americans, will lead a squad that features a good mixture of both experience and talent.

Last season, as a junior, Coughlin earned her third straight NCAA and Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year awards. At the national championships, she became the NCAA's first three-time titlist in the 100 fly, and 100 and 200 backstrokes. She owns the American, U.S. Open and NCAA records in each event. At the 2003 Pac-10 Championships, she broke her own American and NCAA record in the 100 free, and posted two other wins at the championships, setting new meet records in the 50 free and 100 fly. She also helped Cal's 200 free relay team to the Bears' fifth consecutive Pac-10 title. Coughlin also kept her unbeaten streak of consecutive league dual meet races intact (43-0).

In addition to her astonishing achievements in college swimming, Coughlin is also a force in the worldwide swimming community. Last November at the FINA World Cup, Coughlin smashed three world and four American records in the span of two days. In all, Coughlin broke three world, seven American and three NCAA records during the 2002-03 season. For her efforts, she was named the 2002 Female World Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World magazine, was one of five finalists for the Sullivan Award given to the nation's best amateur athlete for the second consecutive season, won the Honda Award for Swimming and Diving earned her second straight ESPN ESPY award nomination for Best Female Collegiate Athlete and was also nominated for Best Record-Breaking Performance. She capped her summer in Barcelona, Spain, competing at the FINA World Championships. Despite being ill, she led the U.S. 400m free and medley relays to respective gold and silver medals.

Coughlin is backed by six other returning All-Americans in fellow seniors Danielle Becks, Natalie Griffith and Micha Burden, junior Lauren Medina and sophomores Helen Silver and Cheryl Anne Bingaman. Becks was an integral part of Cal's 200 and 400 free relay teams at the NCAA Championships, helping those squads to respective fourth and third place finishes. Griffith also earned her All-America status as a member of an NCAA relay, swimming the butterfly leg of Cal's third place 200 medley relay squad. Silver and Bingaman were impressive in their debut seasons, as Silver scored points for the Bears at the NCAAs in the 100 back and 400 medley relay, and Bingaman swam the third leg on Cal's 400 free relay. Medina and Burden earned All-America honors in the 2002 season, as both were part of Cal's ninth place 800 free relay.

McKeever is excited about this season's batch of newcomers as Cal welcomes five new Bears to Berkeley. The newcomers-Annie Babicz, Catherine O'Neal, Erin Reilly, Kelly Sanders and Nadia Staubitz-are a talented and versatile bunch that should make significant contributions this season.

The following is an event-by-event look at the 2003-04 California Golden Bears.

FREESTYLE

Seniors Natalie Coughlin and Danielle Becks, juniors Lauren Medina, Lisa Morelli, Emma Palsson and Keiko Amano and sophomores Cheryl Anne Bingaman, Ashley Chandler and Kate Tiedeman are Cal's returning freestylers. Coughlin held Cal's best times in the 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 free last season, setting American, NCAA, U.S. Open and school records in the 100 (47.00) and 200 free (1:42.65) events. She also set school records in the 50 free (22.01) and as a member of the 200 (1:30.03) and 400 free relay (3:16.21) events.

Becks has consistently been a top sprinter for the Bears and returns for her senior year after qualifying for the NCAA Championships in the 50 and 100 free events and as a member of the 200, 400 and 800 free relays. Swimming the second leg, Becks helped set new school records in the 200 and 400 free relay events. She also won the 50 free bonus final at the Pac-10 Championships and swam Cal's second-fastest time last season in the 100 free (50.48).

In their first seasons as Golden Bears, Bingaman, Chandler and Tiedeman felt comfortable in the collegiate swim scene, as each were on Cal's NCAA Championships team. Chandler, an NCAA qualifier in the 200, 500 and 1650 free, was Cal's leader in the 1650 free (16:29.15) and owned the team's second-fastest time in the 100 free (9:58.72) and third-fastest times in the 200 (1:49.36) and 500 free (4:49.63). Chandler's times in the 1000 and 1650 free respectively stand as the eighth and seventh-fastest times in Cal's history. Bingaman qualified and scored points for the Bears at the NCAA Championships in the 400 free relay, while Tiedeman served as an alternate at the national championships in the 500 free. Tiedeman also inked her name onto Cal's all-time Top 10 list, posting the 10th fastest time in the 500 free (4:48.94).

Juniors Palsson and Amano were solid contributors for the Bears at the Pac-10 Championships and will provide depth in the sprint events.

Medina has been a solid competitor for the Bears as a middle distance freestyler. Medina, an NCAA qualifier in the 200 free, swam Cal's second-fastest time in that event last season (1:48.90). An excellent 200 free swimmer, Medina can swim the longer distance races, as well. Senior Micha Burden and Morelli-who swam the team's third fastest 1650 free (17:03.25) last season-will also be top contributors in the distance freestyle events for the Bears. Burden, who was part of Cal's NCAA qualifying 800 free relay in 2002, missed most of last season after having surgery to repair a broken bone in her hand, which she injured at Cal's meet against Georgia.

Look to freshman Erin Reilly to have an immediate impact on Cal's distance races. Reilly, the Sacramento Bee's 2003 Swimmer of the Year, was an 11-time All-American in high school.

BREASTSTROKE

The graduation of former Olympic gold medallist Staciana Stitts leaves an opportunity for several Bears to shine in the challenging breaststroke events. Senior Natalie Griffith, juniors Marcelle Miller, Erin Calder and Jenna Rais, sophomore Gina Merlone and freshmen Annie Babicz and Catherine O'Neal should all rise to the occasion and compete early for the breaststroke spot on Cal's medley relays.

Miller will lead this season's group of breaststrokers. An NCAA Championships qualifier in the 200 breast, she also scored points for the Bears in that event at the Pac-10 Championships. Behind Stitts, Miller swam the second-fastest times on the team in the 100 (1:04.21) and 200 breast (2:15.06) events last season. Her time in the 200 breast marked her onto Cal's all-time Top 10 list with the fifth-fastest time in that event.

Griffith, who also is a prolific IMer, will also provide leadership among the breaststrokers. Last season, Griffith qualified for the NCAAs in the 200 medley relay where she swam the butterfly leg. She swam Cal's third-fastest times of the season in both the 100 (1:04.24) and 200 breast (2:18.84).

Like Griffith, Rais can also swim the IM events. Rais earned points for the Bears at the Pac-10 Championships and should, along with Merlone and Calder, be a solid performer for the Bears in the breaststroke. Merlone underwent knee surgery over the summer, and her status for this season is yet to be determined.

Freshmen Babicz and O'Neal are expected to contribute to the breaststroke corps, as well. Babicz is a four-time Florida state champion in the 100 breast and set the Florida state record (1:01.98) in that event. A 2002 U.S. national junior team member and 2000 Olympic trial participant, Babicz was also the No. 1-ranked high schooler in the 100 breast in 2001. O'Neal earned All-America consideration in 2001 and 2003 in the 100 breast.

BACKSTROKE

Having the world's best female backstroker on the team in Natalie Coughlin has inspired excellent performances from the Bears' other backstrokers, as well. Last season, Coughlin led the Bears in both the 100 (50.92) and 200 back (1:50.86) and won her third NCAA titles in those events. Coughlin, who holds Cal's 100 and 200 back school records, also helped the 200 and 400 medley relay teams to Top 4 finishes.

Additionally, outside of collegiate swimming, Coughlin broke the world, American and U.S. Open records in the 100-short course meter back (58.80) and the American and U.S. Open records in the 50scm back (27.08) at the FINA World Cup in New York, last November.

Sophomore Helen Silver returns after a stellar freshman season. Silver, an NCAA qualifier in the 100 and 200 back and as a member of the 400 medley relay, is Cal's second-fastest backstroker on the team. Swimming the backstroke leg in the 400 medley, Silver helped the relay team to a third-place finish at the national collegiate meet. She also turned in a third-place finish in the NCAA consolation final of the 100 back, swimming a personal-best time of 54.25. At the Pac-10 Championships, Silver claimed a runner-up finish in the 200 back. With the second-fastest times on the team last season in both the 100 (54.25) and 200 back (1:57.81), she inked herself onto Cal's all-time Top 10 list at No. 5 and No. 7 in those respective events. For her strong work ethic and tremendous results, Silver earned the Cal Coaches Award at the end of the season.

Juniors Amy Ng and Lisa Morelli will also factor in as backstroke contributors. Last season, Ng clocked the third-fastest time on the team in the 200 back (2:02.44), while Morelli had the third-fastest time in the 100 back (57.44). Both swimmers will also compete in a host of other events for the Bears including the individual medley for Ng and butterfly for Morelli. Sophomore Kate Tiedeman can also be penciled in as a backstroker.

Newcomers Nadia Staubitz and Kelly Sanders are also part of this season's backstroke group. However, Sanders had shoulder surgery over the summer and her status for this season is yet to be determined. Staubitz was the 2002 Arizona state high school champion in the 100 and 200 back and set her high school's records in those events.

BUTTERFLY

Not only is Natalie Coughlin the world's best female backstroker, but she holds a world butterfly record, as well. While at the FINA World Cup last November, Coughlin set the 100scm fly record at 56.34. She also posted her third consecutive win in that event at both the NCAA and Pac-10 Championships, setting a new conference championships record at 51.10. She won the 100 fly at the NCAAs by a time of 50.62. Additionally, Coughlin set an American and NCAA record in the 200 fly (1:51.91)-the oldest American record on the books-at last December's Auburn Invitational.

Several other Bears will also compete in the butterfly, including senior Natalie Griffith, juniors Lisa Morelli, Jenna Rais and Emma Palsson, sophomore Flora Kong and freshmen Erin Reilly, Annie Babicz and Nadia Staubitz.

Kong was impressive in her debut season. She tied Morelli for the second-fastest time on the team in the 200 fly (2:01.99) and swam the third-fastest time in the 100 fly (55.58). Kong and Morelli both scored points at the Pac-10 Championships in the fly events. Kong finished third in the 100 fly consolation final at the conference meet.

Rais and Palsson also contributed in the butterfly events last season. Reilly, Babicz and Staubitz are expected to contribute in the sprint fly events. Reilly, who can also swim the 200 fly, and Staubitz both earned All-America honors in the 100 fly, while Babicz was a three-time Florida state champion in that event.

INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY

Seniors Natalie Coughlin and Natalie Griffith and junior Amy Ng, anchor a talented group of individual medley swimmers. Junior Jenna Rais and sophomores Helen Silver and Kate Tiedeman are also talented swimmers at every stroke and should be competitive in the IM events.

Coughlin held the team's top times in both the 200 (2:00.62) and 400 IM (4:11.76) last season. Coughlin is likely the most versatile swimmer in the country, as evidenced by leading the nation with top times in seven of 13 individual events last season.

Both Griffith and Ng qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 200 and 400 IM. The duo also scored points for Cal in those events at the Pac-10 Championships. Griffith won the 200 IM consolation final, while Ng won the 400 IM consolation final at the conference meet. Ng also turned in a runner-up finish in the bonus final of the 200 IM. Griffith swam the second-fastest time on the team last season in the 200 IM (2:02.58), while Ng held the second-fastest time in the 400 IM (4:18.44). Griffith also swam Cal's third-fastest time in the 400 IM (4:19.31).

Rais and Tiedeman both scored points for the Bears in the 400 IM at the Pac-10 Championships. Tiedeman finished in eighth-place and Rais swam a lifetime best of 4:21.83 at that distance. Last season, Silver competed in the 200 IM and clocked her fastest time at 2:04.30.

RELAYS

Cal has traditionally been strong in the relay events, and the Golden Bears are once again very talented in this area. McKeever is excited to have a great core of relay swimmers back, but realizes there will be a few question marks as Cal will have to do without the respective freestyle and breaststroke services of Michelle Harper and Staciana Stitts. The openings they leave behind will provide an opportunity for new swimmers to try and make one of the relays.

The Bears are strongest in the 200 and 400 free relays, as they set new school records in both events last season. Seniors Natalie Coughlin and Danielle Becks are the returning members from the 200 free relay. They, along with former swimmers Whitney Rockwell and Harper, posted Cal's best-ever time of 1:30.03 with a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championships. Swimming the lead-off leg, Coughlin clocked a 22.01 in the 50 to set an additional Cal school record. At the Pac-10 Championships, the group captured the title, preserving Cal's domination in that event. The Bears now have five consecutive conference championship titles in the 200 free relay.

Coughlin also led-off the 400 free relay that set a new school mark at the NCAA Championships. Not only was her 100 free split time (47.00) a school record, but it also smashed the former American, NCAA and U.S. Open records. That relay team of Coughlin, Becks, sophomore Cheryl Anne Bingaman and Harper finished third at NCAAs with a record time of 3:16.21. At the Pac-10 Championships, the 400 free relay finished second.

All participants from last season's 800 free relay return for the Bears. Those swimmers include Coughlin, Becks, senior Natalie Griffith, junior Lauren Medina and sophomore Ashley Chandler.

The medley relays also did well at NCAAs, as both the 200 and 400 medley relays placed third with respective times of 1:38.65 and 3:34.95. In the 200 medley relay, Coughlin led off with the backstroke, while Stitts followed with the breast, Griffith swam the butterfly and Harper anchored with the freestyle leg. In the 400 medley relay, sophomore Helen Silver swam the backstroke, while Stitts again swam the breast followed by Coughlin with the butterfly and Becks as the freestyle anchor. At the Pac-10 Championships, both relay teams took the runner-up places with the 200 medley relay clocking a time of 1:40.53, while the 400 medley relay finished in 3:39.04.

DIVING

For the first time in four years, the Cal women's diving team will not be lead by Christina Flynn. Flynn, who graduated last season, had been the centerpiece of Cal's growing program during her time in Berkeley. Despite the loss, the Bears return junior Alyson Borawski and sophomore Lauren Smith who competed last season. Three newcomers, former Cal gymnast Tara Capsuto and freshmen Lila Korpell and Amanda Schneider join them.

'Alyson and Lauren are back for us and should do well,' said head diving coach Phil Tonne. 'Our newcomers haven't trained like this before, but they are up for it and should really step-up for us.'

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