By Coach Jeff Pease
As we move full throttle into our championship season, I thought it would be fun and informative to give you the history and significance of the NCA green cap, including some highlights I would like to reflect upon. Over a period of almost 40 years, the NCA green cap has become a national brand, and I am proud that in any corner of this country the swimming community knows where the green cap resides.
I have been asked several times, “Why green?” The answer is simply: when I started NCA in 1979 I wanted a team look that separated us from the rest of the teams in San Diego and Southern California, and green was not a color you saw on team caps or team attire. Hence, NCA became the “Green Machine” with our distinctive kelly green caps with white NCA block lettering. I had no idea back then that this cap color and design would stand out as well as it has or hold up to the test of time. Across 8 lanes of the pool, you always knew which lane(s) NCA was competing in as the kelly green caps with white NCA block lettering could not be mistaken.
More important than the color of our caps are the generations of NCA swimmers who have proudly worn them and built the legacy and tradition that NCA celebrates with every new season and every team championship. Let me stroll down memory lane and share a few of my great memories of athletes who have worn the green cap at the highest level of our sport.
In 1984, 15 year old NCA distance swimmer Marty Caverly was shooting for his first Junior National cuts in multiple events. We were competing in March of that year at East L.A. College, one of the fastest pools in the country at that time. Marty started out the meet with a great 1000 yard free, but he narrowly missed the Junior National cut. He continued to swim fast throughout the competition but fell short by tenths of seconds in the 500 yard free and 400 yard IM.
On the last day of the meet Marty was entered in the 1650 yard (mile) free – his last chance to punch his ticket to Junior Nationals that year. We agreed upon this strategy: try for the 500 Junior National cut in the middle of his mile race. Then, whether he made it or not, he was going to touch the wall at the 500 mark, look at the clock, and push off to go for his 1000 Junior National cut. Yes, the plan was to achieve two cuts in that mile race!
Marty started with a great race! He touched the wall at the 500 and achieved his first Junior National cut. From the water, he looked to me with a big smile on his face and continued the race for the 1000 Junior National cut. Swimming with increased confidence, he shattered the 1000 standard, achieving his second Junior Nationals qualifying time!
Our goal for the rest of the race was for Marty to warm down because he needed to finish the race legally for his 500 and 1000 times to count, but I realized that he had a shot at making the mile cut as well. This was of course not his plan, and we shared some back and forth verbal sparring as he warmed down on his back. Guess who won the argument?!? Marty reluctantly turned back over and by the 1200 yard mark was back on pace to go under the mile standard, which he comfortably achieved. THREE JUNIOR NATIONAL TIMES IN THE SAME RACE!
Marty was the first in a long history of North Coast nationally-ranked, high school distance swimmers and became the first NCA swimmer to be admitted to Harvard University.
In 1992, 15 year old NCA stand-out Michelle Collins was trying to qualify for the 1992 USA Olympic Trials in her best event at that time – the long-course 50 meter freestyle. As a coach, I had yet to have a swimmer qualify for the USA Olympic Trials, a goal that I set for myself at the beginning of my coaching career in 1976.
The Olympic qualifying standard in the 50 meter free that year was 26.89, and Michelle started chasing this standard in the summer of 1991. I cannot recall all of her “near misses”, but I do remember that she chased this standard from the summer of ‘91 up until the very last chance she had in February of 1992 at a senior meet in Cerritos, California. Sadly, she missed the standard in the prelims of this meet and again at the finals. However, since this was the very last date to qualify for the Olympic trials, a time trial was held after the finals Sunday night for those swimmers close to the trials cut. Michelle had one final chance in what turned out to be her 11th attempt at the qualifying standard of 26.89.
I can vaguely recall the race, but I do remember looking up at the scoreboard and seeing 26.87 next to her name – her first and NCA’s first Olympic Trials qualifying time!
Michelle continued to proudly wear the NCA green cap, becoming a Junior National Champion in the 100 yard butterfly, and she was awarded a full swimming scholarship to Stanford University.
In 2000, 17 year old NCA stand-out Aram Kevorkian, one of the most accomplished age-group swimmers in the history of NCA, was preparing for the 2000 USA Olympic Trials. Aram had developed a great training background in the years leading up to the trials. He trained with two of the fastest high school distance swimmers in the country; teammates Mickey Murad and Tim Siciliano. In 2000, Mickey and Tim were finishing their 2nd year of college swimming at Cal and Michigan respectively. I was excited to have all three compete for NCA at the 2000 trials, but unfortunately, both Mickey and Tim were recovering from shoulder injuries and were unable to compete.
Aram had qualified in the 400 free, 400 IM and 1500 free. My goal for him was simply to gain valuable experience at his first Olympic Trials. He was to compete on day one in the 400 free, day two in the 400 IM, and then have to wait until day seven to swim his best event, the 1500.
Aram started out the trials with lifetime bests in both of his first two events, and we were excited to see what he could do in the mile later that week.
For perspective, the preliminary of the mile is on Day 7 of the trials. Similar to the Olympic Games, the final (top 8) of the mile is conducted the next day (Day 8). Never dreaming that Aram could make the top 8, we booked our flights back to San Diego for the morning after the trials.
With 4 days off between events, my job was to keep Aram sharp and ready for his mile. Our goal was simply a best time for Aram, but in the days leading up to his mile, Aram looked better and better and his pace 100’s got faster and faster. Aram was competing in one of the first (slowest) heats as he had just qualified under the Olympic trials standard. Aram started the race fast, separating himself from the rest of the competitors and as the race went on, I knew I was witnessing one of the greatest swims in my coaching career.
Aram turned at the 800 meters well under his best 800 time and continued to distance himself from the field. I was running up and down the pool deck with his NCA teammates, 14 year old Valerie Tukey and 19 year old Jenay Karlson, cheering him on. Both girls had qualified that year for trials in the 400 free.
Aram now had a nearly half a length lead on the 2nd place swimmer, and when he touched the wall in 15:30.65, he had dropped over 30 seconds from his previous best time!
With a time we had not dreamed of going into the race, we now realized that Aram had a shot at making the top eight final. There were, however, several heats to swim, including the top 3, circle seeded heats with the top 24 swimmers yet to compete. As we nervously watched one heat after the another finish, Aram’s time continued to hold up as the fastest prelim swim going into the last 3 heats.
I swear watching those last three heats was like watching paint dry. I do not recall what place Aram was in going into the last heat, but I do recall vividly that when the scoreboard scrolled the top times at the completion of the last heat, Aram stood in 8th place and HAD QUALIFIED FOR THE 1500 FINAL!!! Of course, this also meant rebooking are flights and extending our hotel stay, but it was worth it because North Coast had a swimmer in an Olympic Trials final on the last day of the trials!
This was also an historic day for NCA, as Aram became the first high school swimmer in the history of our storied program to qualify for an Olympic Trials final. It would be another 8 years before Tanya Krisman became the first NCA female to qualify for an Olympic Trials final in 2008. However, this was personally a very bittersweet trials for me. In addition to Mickey and Tim not being able to compete, defending 1996 Olympian and NCA alum Kurt Grote was attempting to make his 2nd USA Olympic Team in the 100 and 200 breast. Kurt had enjoyed incredible post Olympic success, becoming a World Champion in 1998, but he sustained a leg injury the following year and was uncertain of his status for the 2000 trials. Kurt made the tough decision to pull out of the trials after his first event, the 100 breast, which turned out to be the last race of his illustrious career.
Each of these stories are examples of a few of the NCA greats who came before you. They all had big dreams, worked hard to accomplish their goals, and found magic in the green cap.
So whether you are putting the green cap on for your first green meet, your first JO’s, or your first Far Westerns, remember this: if you dream big, believe in your coaches, and most importantly, believe in yourself, then there is magic in the green cap for you as well.