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Women’s NCAAs: Rivals Or Competitors?

Mar 19, 2013  - Chuck Warner

College season is heading for its climax: the NCAAs. Guest writer Chuck Warner captures the spirit of the moment

When the horn blasts to start the heats of the 200-yard freestyle relay preliminaries on Thursday in Indianapolis, the number one and two ranked college teams in America will be joined by 79 other squads in a battle for the NCAA Team Championship.

History proves that you don’t need to be ranked number one or two to win, or even run away with a team title. But the two top ranked teams in the College Swimming Coaches Association Poll are the University of Southern California and Cal Berkeley. 

Cal, led by Coach Teri McKeever, looks to win their third team crown in a row. With super-star, and super-teammate, Missy Franklin arriving in Berkeley in September one has to wonder if the Golden Bears are set up for an epic run of six or seven straight titles if they can win this year. 

One of the team’s standing in the of way of Golden Bear domination is Coach Dave Salo’s number one ranked Trojans from USC. Coach Salo has led a program catapult from finishing 20th in first year in 2007 to finishing third in 2012. One has to wonder how Dave manages to coach the USC Men and Women’s team - with separate conference and NCAA competitions - coach Olympic pros, recruit and be general manager of the Irvine Novas. When does Dave sleep?

Despite his success in Los Angeles, Coach Salo has yet to win a team NCAA title and if not this year, when? 

With so much at stake, it seems that Dave Salo and Teri McKeever would have an intense rivalry in place. Not so according to sports’ greatest team champion ever, Bill Russell. For the young readers, Russell’s two college NCAA team titles at the basketball powerhouse, the University of San Francisco, coupled with 11 NBA team titles in his 13 years with the Boston Celtics makes him an expert on winning. 

Russell once said that despite battling fellow legendary center Wilt Chamberlain in more than 140 NBA regular season game, as well as many crucial playoff games, the two were never rivals. Russell explains that they couldn’t be rivals because they were friends. He further reveals his remarkable capacity for simplifying analysis when he says, “If you’re rivals there is a vanquished and a victor”a winner and a loser. We were competitors that brought out the best in each other, not rivals.”

The Salo-McKeever friendship dates back to when the two were assistant coaches on the USC staff in1985. Dave worked with the men and Teri with the women. When Coach McKeever was voted the American Swimming Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2002, Dave Salo stood at her table side and glowingly applauded, reveling in the moment almost as much as his friend, and not so much because she was the first woman to ever win the award, but because that year his friend was recognized as America’s very best swimming coach. 

The NCAA battle begins Thursday, but there will be no vanquished for this pair of coaches, at least not according to Bill Russell. They will counsel, prod, laugh and perhaps cry with their athletes at different moments striving to bring out their very best. And in doing so they will bring out the best in each other, not as rivals, but as competitors - and as friends.