Industry Hills Makes a Splash : Up-and-Coming Swim Club Challenges Powerhouses

Times Staff Writer

When it comes to swimming clubs, none quite compares with Mission Viejo. Complete with a program rich in tradition and Olympic swimmers, it is the recognized swimming powerhouse.

But Mission Viejo is far from the only swimming titan in Southern California.

Say hello to Industry Hills, the overshadowed but up-and-coming club with two Olympians of its own.

Industry Hills may not have as many swimmers as Mission Viejo or the reputation, but the commitment to excellence is just as strong.

In a city where businesses outnumber residents and production is a way of life, few present a better product than the Industry Hills Swim Club.

It produces some of the best swimmers in the nation. Ones that are fast, sleek and perform like a well-tuned sports cars.

Atop a hill overlooking more than 1,000 business that cover the 10 square miles of the smog-sodden industrial and warehouse district, the Industry Hills Swim Club, part of the Industry Hills & Sheraton Resort, resembles an oasis.

And for more than 200 swimmers, Industry Hills is a welcome relief.

The complex is also building a reputation as one of the finest swim clubs in the nation.

Its members, once a bunch of transient swimmers having troubles finding a pool in which to practice, are now the fourth best swim team in the United States. Two Industry Hills swimmers competed in the 1984 Summer Olympics. One of them, Jenna Johnson, won a silver medal in the 100-meter butterfly.

Johnson and the rest of the Industry Hills squad will be put the the test at the Industry Hills Invitational today and Friday, and at the Senior Nationals at Mission Viejo's International Swim Complex on August 5-9.

"Our goal is to have a strong program from the age groups to the national level," said John Ries, Industry Hills director of aquatics. "We have something to offer any caliber of swimmer, from the beginner all the way to the top. This is one of the finest facilities there is."

The facilities are top-notch, and the swimmers aren't bad either.

Johnson and fellow Olympian Jeff Kostoff highlight a program which finished fourth in indoor and outdoor mens' and womens' combined team scores at the Senior Nationals last year. The womens' team finished second overall.

At the Speedo Swim Meet of Champions at Mission Viejo, Johnson, a 17-year-old from La Habra, won the 100-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly.

"We are a growing program," said Industry Hills head coach Ed Spencer. "We've developed to become one of the top clubs in the nation."

The development of the club has also started to pay dividends to the swimmers. Six will attend Stanford next year, including Kostoff.

A 19-year-old from Upland, Kostoff came to Industry Hills four years ago. Two years later, he won three events at the Senior Nationals and set an American record. Kostoff has accumulated 13 national championships since he began training at Industry Hills when he was 15.

"Probably in the last three years, nobody has won more national championships than Jeff Kostoff," said Spencer, who primarily coaches the senior national swimmers. "He's not only the type of swimmer who does what you want him to do, he does more."

Because of the success of Johnson, Kostoff and Mike Nyeholt of USC, Industry Hills is attracting more top swimming prospects. Matt Nance and Stacy Shupe head the list of swimmers who have come to the haven on the hill to train.

Nance, 18, was an NCAA finalist for Stanford in the 400-yard individual medley, and Shupe, 18, has become one of the top distance swimmers in the country, Spencer said. Shupe finished fourth in the 1,500-meter freestyle at the Meet of Champions.

"I think having Olympians (on the club) encourages people," said Johnson, who joined Industry Hills two years ago after moving from Santa Rosa. "We do pretty well for the amount of people we have, I think that's good."

With only 13 swimmers competing at the Senior Nationals last year, Industry Hills finished fourth in combined team scoring, averaging almost 25 points per person. The club had a higher points-per-individual ratio than any other team, including Mission Viejo, which won with more than 70 swimmers competing.

"No team in the top 10 clubs (in the nation) has as few of people as we have," said Spencer. "We have a number of swimmers who swim in a number of events and score highly."

Johnson and Kostoff attribute quite a bit of their development and success to Spencer, who has been coaching the club for almost five years, including two as head coach.

"Ed has helped me a lot," said Kostoff. "When you're doing a lot of training, it's good to have a coach there all the time."

Spencer, 43, knows what it's like to train long hours. A member of the 1966 NCAA champions at North Carolina State, Spencer placed third in the 100-meter butterfly in the 1964 Olympic trials. He transferred his swimming experiences into coaching and has trained swimmers for 19 years.

"I look at my role as a facilitator," said Spencer, who spends up to 70 hours a week coaching at Industry Hills. "I don't scream and holler, and I don't criticize them if they miss practices. But I do have some expectations.

"Everything in our workouts points toward a goal. I want them to push themselves with no limitations . . . all out."

But things were not always that way at the swim club. In the "old days," swimmers had more than just swimming to worry about.

Originally called the El Monte Aquatics Club because the first pool the swimmers trained in was in El Monte, the club practiced wherever it found an open pool to accommodate its more than 150 members.

Even without a permanent training facility, El Monte did well. Jill Sterkel, a 1976 Olympian, was a member of the El Monte Aquatics Club.

"We didn't start from nothing and grow. We came in (to Industry Hills) with a fairly strong team," said Spencer.

1980 brought change to the club.

Under the direction of Don LaMont, the club joined forces with Ries and the Chaffey Aquatics Club from Ontario and came to the newly completed Industry Hills swimming facility.

The new facility not only featured an Olympic-size pool and diving platforms, it also gave the swimmers stability.

With a permanent training facility and a positive outlook, the swimmers improved, Spencer said.

"We have a good, strong program now. We have an identity," said Spencer, who took over the head coaching position when LaMont left to manage the 1984 Olympic swimming facility at USC two years ago. LaMont was also coach of the womens' Olympic team.

Nyeholt started what has become an avalanche of talent at Industry Hills. Nyeholt, a finalist in 400 and 1,500-meter freestyle in the 1982 National Championships, gave Industry Hills national prominence.

"I don't think were getting the Olympic-type of swimmer, we're developing the Olympic-type of swimmer," said Spencer.

The club's history of talented swimmers, though, has been overshadowed by the Mission Viejo program.

But Spencer and his swimmers want to change that.

Funded on the $35 monthly facility fees charged to swimmers for the use of the pool and weight room and sponsored by a parental booster club, Industry Hills is out to gain respect.

"Our goal isn't to beat Mission Viejo . . . we're not going out at any cost to win," said Reis. "We just want a strong program. We've made some good progress and we're growing and getting stronger all the time."

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