This past weekend the United States held their International Team Trials, naming 41 athletes to their 2022 World Championship team. The team has its National Team mainstays like Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel, but looking a little deeper at the roster shows an interesting trend: a shift of US Swimming talent developing on the east coast, especially in the southern Mid Atlantic states of North Carolina and Virginia.
California has long been considered the best swimming state in the Union. With its massive population, proximity to the ocean, strong youth aquatics culture and relatively easy access to outdoor, especially long course, pools, California possesses all of the tools to be the swimming powerhouse it has long been.
For decades the state of California has been the epicenter of USA Swimming development. In the 1960s, legendary coach George Haines developed Don Schollander and Mark Spitz, among scores of others, to Olympic glory at the Santa Clara Swim Club in the Bay Area. In the 1970s came Mark Schubert’s first tenure with the Mission Viejo Nadadores, producing Olympians such as Shirley Babashoff, Brian Goodell and Sippy Woodhead. In addition to those fabled groups, Olympic legends like Matt Biondi, Janet Evans, Pablo Morales, Dara Torres, Summer Sanders, Anthony Ervin, Aaron Peirsol and Natalie Coughlin all spent their formative years on the California swimming circuit.
However, only two athletes on the 2022 Worlds team, Cal’s Trenton Julian and Georgia’s Luca Urlando, grew up and did the entirety of their club swimming in the Golden State. A third, Erika Brown, grew up in the Bay Area swimming for the Pleasanton Seahawks before moving to Charlotte, North Carolina in high school and developing into an international-level swimmer in college at the University of Tennessee.
In addition, the perennially strong southern California elite swimming scene only had two swimmers qualify for the team, Michael Andrew, who trains solo near San Diego, and Justin Ress, who just joined Mission Viejo’s pro group last month. While northern California has some of the best high performance training groups in the country, including Greg Meehan’s Stanford women and Dave Durden’s Cal men, from a developmental perspective, the state as a whole seems to be experiencing a bit of a swoon compared to its proud history.
Contrast this to athletes from the southern Mid-Atlantic states of North Carolina, Virginia and the Washington D.C. metro area selected to the team. Phoebe Bacon, Claire Curzan, Torri Huske, Katie Ledecky, Justin Ress and Charlie Swanson, in addition to the aforementioned Brown who swam for SwimMac in high school, will all compete in Budapest next month.
According to USA Swimming’s Virtual Club Championships rankings, which is an algorithm that USA Swimming uses to measure overall strength of their member clubs, the top 5 teams from the 2021-22 short course season all hail from North Carolina, Virginia or the D.C. metro area. The TAC Titans, home to Claire Curzan, top the list and are followed by SwimMac Carolina in Charlotte, Nation’s Capital Swim Club, NOVA of Virginia and Rockville Montgomery.
Comparatively, the combined populations of North Carolina, Virginia and D.C. are less than half that of California, so there is certainly something more at play. Some of the top club coaches in the country, including TAC’s Bruce Marcionda, SwimMac’s Chuck Bachelor and NCAP’s Bruce Gemmell and John Flanagan, mainstays of USA Swimming’s National and National Junior Team coaches roster, call this region home.
So can we definitively say that Virginia and North Carolina have supplanted California as America’s swimming hotbed? It may be a bit premature to declare the southern Mid Atlantic the winner, but if these trends continue it may not be too far in the future.