The 2013-2014 Cal women’s team is really a bit of a strange bunch. They are potential national champions, despite relying massively on their freshman and sophomore classes. They have Olympic gold medalists, World Championship finalists, and national champions; they have a senior that won multiple NCAA titles in the 100 back and now might only be the 4th-best on her own team.
Even the official release of who the team’s captains were was very blunt about the subject in their opening paragraph:
On a team jam-packed with Olympic performers and national champions – plus a host of others aspiring to reach such distinguished levels – juniors Catherine Breed and Melanie Klaren stand out as team captains for the Cal women’s swimming & diving team’s 2013-14 season.
When choosing their leadership, the Cal swimmers had to think very, very carefully about who truly had been around, seen enough, knew enough, and were in the right position to lead this team, and so they chose the juniors Catherine Breed, coming off of an ACL injury, and Melanie Klaren.
The fact that Cal put out a press release is a clear message, mostly to the team, but also to the outside world. That we could find, Cal doesn’t typically announce captains. There was certainly no release dedicated to it over the last two years, and it took a whole lot of Googling to even be able to dig up what the names of these captains were.
But Cal women’s head coach Teri McKeever is smart. She’s very smart, is one of the greatest masters ever of the psyche of the female collegiate swimmer, and it seems at least to this outside observer that the release sends a message.
This is a Cal team. At the Olympics, swimmers race as individuals. They represent their country, yes, but they’re still racing for their achievements, their hard work, their glory. To get all of these swimmers, though, who have such vast experiences to gel together into a national-championship-winning team, there needed to be a clear message that this is not a national team, it is an NCAA team. There is a clear-set leadership in the two very able juniors Klaren and Breed, there are roles within the team, and when these swimmers get up for practice every morning, what they did last year matters not as compared to what they’re doing right now.
“I think this year, the most important part of being a captain will be keeping the team unified and helping reinforce what our team goals are,” Klaren said of her new role. “We have a very talented team this year and there’s a great opportunity in front of us. I think an aspect that will be highly important will be keeping things in perspective and continually moving forward.”
McKeever also knows that this Cal women’s team is about to receive more national media attention than any women’s swim team in NCAA history. By announcing Klaren and Breed as the captains with slightly more fanfare than usual, two extremely talented swimmers but ones that would be long shots to win individual titles this year, she’s spread the pressure around. She’s taken some of that pressure and put it on two swimmers, Klaren and Breed, who are on the verge of being top-5 NCAA finishers, and to let that raise them up.
That’s the same pressure, that placed upon the shoulders of younger swimmers for whom mere top-5 finishes might leave outcries, could instead hold them down.
We all know the elephant in the room and what it is. Marina Garcia, World Championship finalist, not a mention in the season preview. Liz Pelton, World Championship medalist, two mentions in the preview. Missy Franklin, World Champion, three mentions in the preview. But none of them came until after Klaren and Breed, and until after Celina Li’s win as Queen of the Pool was acknowledged. Not until after laying out that every swimmer on the Cal team is accountable to every other swimmer, as is expected to be enforced by Klaren and Breed.
If Cal goes on to win an NCAA Championship, this one little release could be the genius coaching move of the year. Perhaps I haven’t perfectly elocuted what exactly McKeever is after, or perhaps these 800 words read much too far into it. For coaches like McKeever, releases like this don’t go out on accident. There is a message here, and it’s one that McKeever and her swimmers know and understand as they step into this wild ride that will be Cal women’s swimming of the 2013-2014 season.