INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Take a quick glance at the pool deck and you‘re not likely to see Stanford University head coach Greg Meehan running around and staring at a stopwatch.
Oh, sure, the times are crucial. But there are other things.
“Our sport is really redefining itself in terms of what is fast,” Meehan said after Thursday’s preliminary heats in six events opened the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships at the IU Natatorium. “We’re trying not to get caught up in trying to go certain times. It’s really about what our sport is on the most basic level, it’s a race. Your goal is to get your hand on the wall before anybody else in your heat.
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“We’ve stayed true to that. We’ve stayed true to that in our dual meets, we’ve stayed true to that at the Pac-12s, I feel like we stayed true to that [Thursday] morning.”
The payoff is already arriving for the Cardinal, which has won an Division I-record eight national championships. In Meehan’s first year as head coach, Stanford won the Pac-12 team championship and qualified 10 swimmers for the NCAA Championships.
Thursday, Stanford placed second in the 400-yard medley relay prelims and sixth in the 200 freestyle relay. Maya DiRado, a junior, had the top qualifying time in the 200 IM and placed third in the finals behind California’s Caitlin Leverenz and Elizabeth Pelton. Maddy Schaefer of Stanford qualified third in the 50 free and was fourth in the finals. The Cardinals placed fourth in the final of both relay events, including breaking a school record with a time of 3:30.86 in the 400 medley relay. DiRado also swam on the relay team.
Three weeks ago, Stanford started piling up some momentum with its conference championship under a new head coach.
Would you expect anything else from a coach who was regarded as one of the top assistants in the nation the last four years? Meehan helped lead the California-Berkeley men’s team to national championships the last two years. It was just a matter of time before a school scooped him up to be head coach.
Meehan said his transition was helped by the fact that the Stanford campus is in Calfornia’s Bay Area and relatively close to Cal’s Berkeley campus.
“It’s been great,” he said. “It was a fairly comfortable move given that I’m coaching in a very similar area in the Bay Area, just about 40 miles apart between Stanford and Cal.”
Then, there was the team itself. A smile comes to Meehan’s face as he describes the smooth transition from Golden Bear to Cardinal.
“The team, they just were very welcoming,” Meehan said. “They made the transition very smooth. The first year can usually go one of two ways. For us, for my assistant and I, Tracy Duchac, who is wonderful at what she does, it has made our transition really, really smooth.”
And it sure doesn’t hurt to win the Pac-12 Conference in a season during which rival Southern Cal was ranked No. 1 in the country and is a strong national title contender this week in Indianapolis. It was a championship that Meehan quickly credits his team captains with. The league title was Stanford’s 19th and its third in four years.
“You’re typically only as good as your senior class and your assistant coach,” Meehan said. “That’s kind of the rule of thumb. They were great. They set the bar for the rest of the group in terms of welcoming in a new coach and work ethic and leadership.
“Really, at the conference meet, they were the reason that we won the Pac-12. The last day, they stepped up and did a great job for us.”
Among those standout seniors was Andi Murez, who anchored the winning 800-free relay team and also won silver in the 200 free.
Stanford’s strong senior class has been assisted by juniors Maya DiRado and Felicia Lee, and sophomore freestyler Maddy Schaefer. DiRado and Lee are both on the 800 free relay team which won a conference title and will compete for a national title Friday. While DiRado qualified with the quickest time (1:54.56) in the 200 IM, her stronger events, Meehan said, are yet to come: 400 IM on Friday and 200 backstroke Saturday.
DiRado is still a teenager.
“She’s incredibly mature. She’s one of the youngest juniors I’ve ever seen. She’s only 19 and she’s a college junior,” Meehan said. “She doesn’t turn 20 until April, so the team gives her a hard time about that. But she’s very mature, she’s got a great work ethic.”
DiRado is helping to make Meehan’s Stanford debut a memorable one. And it may be just a little strange next week when the NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships are held at the IU Natatorium. While the Cal men chase after their third consecutive national title, their former coach, Meehan, will be at home in California watching the meet via a webcast on his computer.
“When you’re at a place for four years, you really invest yourself in the success of the program,” he said. “I felt like on a personal level I got to know those guys very well. I want to see them do great. I want to see them do awesome.”
Then, Meehan chuckled, remember he‘s wearing a different team color these days.
“But I want to see Stanford do better,” he said.