Queen of the Pool: Cal's Caitlin Leverenz

by Allison Yee

In the first race of her collegiate career, California sophomore swimmer Caitlin Leverenz was crowned Queen of the Pool at Cal Poly, and she has been a star for the Golden Bears ever since.

The 2010 Pac-10 Freshman/Newcomer of the Year, Leverenz claimed All-America honors in the 200-yard breaststroke and 200-yard individual medley at her first NCAA Championships. A current U.S. National Team member, Leverenz was named to the 2011 FINA World Championships roster in January and will represent Team USA this summer in Shanghai. But first she plans to conquer the Pac-10 Championships and then the NCAA Championships.

A Tucson, Ariz., native, Leverenz grew up in the footsteps of Arizona and its elite swimming program, but she was excited for a change of scenery and knew Cal was the right fit.

"When I was looking at other schools and taking recruiting trips, I always felt that Cal was the most real with me," said Leverenz. "When I went on my trip here it just felt right. The school is great, Cal has an awesome coaching staff and I really connected well with the team."

Leverenz also knew she wanted to swim for head coach Teri McKeever, who will serve as the women's head coach of the 2012 U.S. Olympic swim team. While McKeever's success as a swimming mentor is visible through the achievements of her athletes, Leverenz believes her coach helps Cal swimmers become better people.

"She is also a truly amazing woman," Leverenz said. "She isn't afraid to stick her head out for what she believes in. She isn't afraid of saying the tough things. On a daily basis, not only does she challenge us in the pool, but we are also challenged as people. Teri doesn't just help us swim fast. She does so much more than that."

The challenges McKeever presents to her swimmers is part of being a student-athlete at Cal. Leverenz believes the entire experience has helped her prepare for national and international competition.

"The great thing about a school like Cal is that as athletes we aren't just challenged in our sport," she said. "But we are also greatly challenged in academics. We have a lot of stimuli around us and also have a lot of pressure on us from both school and swimming. National and international competition is very much like that with a lot of pressure, a lot going on and many challenges to face."

Leverenz has certainly experienced success beyond collegiate competition in the past year. She won the 400-meter individual medley at the 2010 ConocoPhillips National Championships and took second in the 200-meter IM. Nervous entering the meet after what she calls a rough two years after the 2008 Olympic Trials, Leverenz "went for it" and achieved the results necessary to compete at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships and eventually be named to the World Championships roster. At Pan Pacs, Leverenz won a pair of bronze medals in the IM events.

After experiencing a down period in her career, Leverenz is able to appreciate this up period much more. Much of this year has been examining how she looks at both swimming and life in addition to perfecting each stroke of the IM.

"Before this year and before working with Teri, the way I thought about success was by judging off the end product," said Leverenz. "The last two years have been about my journey. I am finding that the process of achieving my goals is in some ways more important and more fulfilling than whether or not things turned out perfect at the end of the season. That frame of mind is going to lead me to have a successful career."

Leverenz's renewed mindset guides her as she trains to win more hardware for the Golden Bears first and then for Team USA this summer. She wants Cal to finish the season on a winning note before turning her focus to medaling in Shanghai.

"I just have to go to practice every day remembering that goal and give every workout all I can give," said Leverenz. "I have an incredible coach to support and challenge me, and she will hold me up to the standard of a World Championships medalist."

Leverenz aspires to be the next Cal swimmer to medal at the Olympic Games, and you can see her first at the 2011 Pac-10 Women's Swimming Championships, to be held Feb. 23-26 in Federal Way, Wash.

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