Jack Bauerle and Teri McKeever know all about targets.
Between their two schools, Georgia and California respectively, they’ve won the past four NCAA Division I women’s swimming and diving national championships and lay claim to five of the past six. The Bulldogs have won it all in each of the last two seasons, the Bears the two years before that.And in only one of those meets did the other school not finish second -- Stanford was runner-up to Georgia in 2014. There’s really no other way to put it. To win a national championship in women’s swimming and diving, other teams have to go through Athens and Berkeley to do it.
Other schools know it. Bauerle and McKeever accept the target that rests squarely on their backs. It’s not heavy or light. It’s just there, a familiar weight. A welcomed one.
Even when do a press conference together, they’re competing.
“I think we should go with the defending champion,” McKeever responds when asked to make an opening statement.
“We weren’t quite ready,” Bauerle retorts with a smile. When he asks for the question to be repeated, it’s not the moderator, but McKeever who answers. “She wants you to make an opening statement,” he’s told.
“I think you should,” Bauerle says.
“I think you should …” McKeever protests.
And so it goes for a couple more seconds, until Bauerle finally relents and take the microphone.
“It’s exciting coming to a place we haven’t been to yet,” Bauerle begins. “It’s a nice change in spots. It’s sort of anything goes championship. I think to even go in the top sixteen is going to be a challenge in this meet. We’re excited and we’re ready to go.”
That target of being the best of the best? It’s the ability to maintain it year after year is what intrigues McKeever.
“The journey to the top is a very and exciting and rewarding journey,” she says. “I’m most impressed, personally, with the people who have the ability to stay at the top when others are bringing their best games, whether it be a team or an individual. That’s why I have so much respect for Jack and other programs and other coaches who have done that.
“That’s my goal for our program, to be relevant and accomplish big things year in and year out. I don’t know what’s going to happen this weekend, but I’m in the conversation. To me, I’ve won already.”
Bauerle and McKeever first got to know each other at the 2003 World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona, Spain. Their mutual respect appears to have grown right along with the passage of time.
“We have a great sport … we have great people … we have great coaches,” he says. “Teri and I go back a ways and I honestly believe my program’s a better program because of what Teri’s done at Cal. We’ve had a neat relationship. It’s a healthy one. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
What’s important to remember, however, is that Georgia and California are just two of the sixty-three schools that are represented here this week. The Bulldogs and Bears should be the favorites to win it all, but there are others lurking, waiting to pounce, if not this year, then some time.
And some time soon.
“I certainly preach to my athletes that you can only control the energy, focus and vision that’s sitting in front of you … and that’s my own team,” says Virginia head coach Augie Busch, and the son of legendary swim coach Frank Busch, a man Bauerle calls his best friend in the sport.
“I guess being the son of a coach, you learn not to put energy into the things that you cannot control. Jack has done an incredible job bringing Georgia to what it is today. I prefer not to focus my attention on him or any other team on the peripheral.”
Worrying too much about what another program is doing can often lead to more trouble than it’s worth.
“We’re here to do the best that we can,” says Greg Meehan, Stanford’s head coach. “We prepared ourselves to take care of our own business. We’re looking forward to the challenge that presents. But at the end of the day, part of our goal is to score as many points as we can. Wherever that puts us in the standings, we’re going to take that and we’re going to own that.
“We get to dictate our own level of success. To go chasing, I think, is something that can maybe lead you astray, especially when you’re chasing programs such as Cal and Georgia. So we’re just staying in our own path and enjoying the process.”