As years go, this one has been pretty good for Teri McKeever.
In March, her University of California women’s swimming team won its third NCAA championship in four years. This summer, McKeever served as the first female head coach of a U.S. Olympic women’s swimming team, with her Americans dominating the pool in London.
Now McKeever has welcomed six highly regarded swimmers and a diver to her Cal program, including 2012 Olympic star Missy Franklin.
This year’s recruiting class, following what was one of McKeever’s best group of recruits in 2011, promises to make the Bears a deep, talented and exciting team to watch over the next few years.
“I think the thing that’s exciting is backing up the freshman class that we have with another strong class,” McKeever said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “That’s been something that (associate head coach) Kristen (Cunnane) and I have really put a lot of attention and purposefulness into. … When you string a couple of great classes together, that’s when you can really do some amazing things.”
Franklin, of course, is the centerpiece.
“Missy is obviously a dimension in herself,” McKeever said.
The 17-year-old from Centennial, Colo., who holds the world record in the 200-meter backstroke and won four gold medals and a bronze this summer, decided to sign a letter of intent with Cal rather than turn professional. She has committed to swimming two seasons in Berkeley.
In addition, top-15 national recruits Celina Li, Kristen Vredeveld and Farida Osman will be swimming for Cal, along with Abi Speers, Taylor Young and diver Hayden Tavoda.
Li, from Pleasanton, Calif., is the No. 5 ranked recruit in the nation by Collegeswimming.com, and was sixth in the 200 IM at this year’s Olympic Trials.
Vredeveld and Speers also swam in the U.S. Olympic Trials, while Osman, born in Indiana, swam for Egypt in the London Games.
Next season Franklin and her incoming classmates will join a Cal team that is ranked No. 2 in the nation. While current senior and Olympian Caitlin Leverenz will be gone next fall, freshman Rachel Bootsma (a relay gold medalist at London), will be back.
McKeever admitted she’s already looking forward to seeing what next year’s team can do.
“Even last weekend when we were getting ready to race with Texas and Wisconsin, I will admit there was a part of me that was fantasizing about having Missy and Kristen and Celina, being able to add them in the lineup,” McKeever said. “What an amazing opportunity that’s going to be for us, to really have people who are multifaceted in their talents. We’re going to be able to come at people in a lot of different ways.”
Landing Franklin, of course, was a coup for McKeever, one of the most successful college coaches in the nation who’s now in her 21st year at Cal.
The former USC All-America swimmer has coached such college and Olympic standouts as 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin, Haley Cope and Staciana Stitts, and is known for incorporating some unconventional aspects into her program, such as ocean swimming, dance, yoga and team-building retreats.
McKeever and Franklin had the chance to work closely together in London, and both feel comfortable with the fit.
“I was always admiring (McKeever’s) coaching style,” Franklin told the Daily Californian Wednesday. “I always wanted to be a part of that group, and I always wanted to be coached by Teri.”
McKeever said she’s hopeful she can help Franklin become an even more versatile swimmer — something she tries to do with many of her athletes.
“I think that’s how a young lady has a successful career,” McKeever said. “I don’t want Missy to come and swim 100 and 200 back, 100 and 200 free for the next two years and then do that nationally. I think it would be great to work on her breaststroke and have her swim some fly and just develop as an overall swimmer. There are still a lot of things that I think anybody can (do and improve upon), even though you hold the world record in one stroke.”
When McKeever was asked what events Franklin might swim at the NCAA championships, she began talking about the possibilities and where to put this swimmer or that, before stopping and saying, “That’s a good question.”
“I’ve seen on websites … someone has my whole lineup for me,” she added, laughing. “So if I get desperate, I can go back and look at that.”
As she’s gotten deeper into her coaching career, McKeever says she’s become a bit more particular about the student-athletes she wants to work with. She’s looking not only for swimming talent, but also for young women who want to learn, work and have perspective about swimming’s place in their lives.
“I want to be around people that want to be challenged and want to be coached and want to be in partnership and want to be part of a team,” she said.
She mentioned Franklin, Li and Vredeveld as “three young ladies I’m really going to enjoy working with.”
Franklin, she acknowledged, is turning away from the chance to make a lot of money now for a chance to be a part of a team, get an education and add a value to her life that can’t be computed on a calculator.
“Her decision to say, ‘Hey, I want to be part of a team and not, you know, do whatever at 17, speaks to what’s important to her,” McKeever said. “She knows what’s important and she’s willing to make that decision.”