EVERYBODY INTO THE POOL : For a Change, Mission Viejo Swim Team Finds Itself With Plenty of Competition

Times Staff Writer

It hasn’t been easy for Orange County high school swimming coaches. Not those on the 4-A level, anyway.

For 14 years, Mission Viejo High School has dominated the Southern Section 4-A boys’ meet. Fourteen years, 14 titles.

In other words, the last time someone besides Mission Viejo won a 4-A boys’ title, disco was an acceptable form of expression.


But slowly that might be changing. Not much, mind you, but enough to give some coaches hope.

Some have uttered the word parity . Some even believe it.

“It has been very discouraging working against Mission Viejo,” said Dave Pickford, who has coached at Marina since 1978. “For years there was no relief in sight. They just had too many great swimmers. Now they’re easier to deal with.”

Mission Viejo is considered one of the favorites in Friday night’s 4-A finals at Belmont Plaza in Long Beach--maybe the favorite--but gone are the days of domination.

In high school swimming, a team is only as good as the swim club in its neighborhood. And, for years, the Diablos have been able to walk next door for a cup of sugar and, maybe a backstroker from the Mission Viejo Nadadores--one of the premier swim clubs in the nation.

But time and change have closed the gap. No longer are the Nadadores the sole force in Orange County swimming; other clubs have made inroads into the power structure.

That, plus the fact there are more kids getting into the swim of things, have led coaches to believe that other schools are gaining ground--or water--on Mission Viejo.


This year any one of five teams could take home the championship trophy at the 4-A boys’ meet, which has been Diablo property since 1975. Capistrano Valley, Foothill, Marina, Villa Park and, yes, Mission Viejo figure to be the powers at the meet.

Coaches disagree whether this is a temporary shift or a glimpse at the future. But one thing is certain, the meet will be closer than it has been since, well, since disco was in.

“There could be as many as seven teams score 100 or more points this year; that’s never happened before,” Villa Park Coach Jeff Ehrlich said. “You’re talking about the champion having maybe only 132 points. I still think Mission Viejo will win it, but it’ll be closer.”

In 1969, Foothill Coach Tom DeLong founded the Foothill Fins swim club, which evolved into the Tustin-based Southern California Aquatics, for the express purpose of creating a feeder program for his high school teams.

His idea worked and the club developed such world-class talent as Bruce and Steve Furniss. Bruce Furniss won two gold medals in the 1976 Olympics and his brother Steve won a bronze in the 1972 Games.

“Just like football has a feeder program with Junior All-American and baseball with Little League, I knew we had to get kids exposed to swimming at an early age to get to the very top,” said DeLong, who has coached the Knights for 24 years.


With the Furniss brothers and others, Foothill won four consecutive Southern Section titles from 1971-74. The Knights also won the girls’ team championships in 1972 and 1974.

Foothill had established itself as the premier high school swim program in the Southern Section.

“Tom had foresight, there’s no doubt about it,” said Everett Uchiama, the coach of the Southern California Aquatics program. “He knew he needed a team that would help his (high school) program and that was good, solid thinking.”

Meanwhile, to the south, Mark Schubert began building the premier swim program in the nation--perhaps the world--in 1972.

When the Nadadores were formed in 1968, it was geared more toward recreation. Something to sweeten the pot for potential home buyers in an emerging community.

The club grew from 23 members at its inception to 300 by 1972. Parents wanted a team that could compete, so Schubert was hired from a high school in Ohio.


Schubert, who formerly coached at the University of Kentucky, proceeded to make the Nadadores a power. With the area full of eager swimmers and the backing of the Mission Viejo Company, this was easy.

He developed talent from within the community and soon was importing top swimmers from all over the country and all over the world.

Some of those swimmers were of high school age. Combined with home-grown youths, it had the makings of a high school dynasty.

The benefactor was Mission Viejo High School, which at the time was the only high school in the community. The Diablos replaced Foothill as the boys’ champion in 1975 and won the girls’ title in 1976.

The school continued to win both championships until Capistrano Valley took the girls’ title away in 1987.

“There was no way you could compete with Mission Viejo,” said Pickford, who also coaches the Golden West Swim Club in Huntington Beach. “They would have eight great seniors, eight great juniors, eight great sophomores and eight great freshmen every year. What Mission Viejo (High School) had was unbeatable. They had the Nadadores feeding them.”


What changed was Schubert. He changed locations.

Schubert left in 1984 to coach a new club team in Boca Raton, Fla., and was replaced by Terry Stoddard. Schubert’s departure didn’t exactly destroy the Nadadores, who continue to be a formidable team, but it created a situation where other clubs could begin to catch up.

“The Nadadores have not been drawing as many kids from out of the state and out of the country (since Schubert left),” Capistrano Valley Coach Don Cholodenko said. “That has created more parity on the high school level.”

But it’s not just the departure of the out-of-towners. Other clubs have been able to keep local talent at home, rather than drive the freeways to swim for the Nadadores.

“In the past, you had kids, like Shirley Babashoff, driving from Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Santa Ana, Tustin, to swim for Mark Schubert,” Uchiama said. “Those kids are staying home now.”

With the better swimmers staying home, other clubs have grown in size and ability.

Southern California Aquatics has almost 200 swimmers, not far from its peak years of 225 in the mid-1970s. Golden West Swim Club has approximately 300 swimmers, about the same as the Irvine Novaquatics.

Saddleback Valley Aquatics, based in El Toro, has cut into the Nadadore power base by drawing swimmers away from the Mission Viejo team.


Even the Fullerton Aquatics Swim Team, a smaller club, has improved. But then FAST has Janet Evans, who won three gold medals in the 1988 Olympics.

“One of the ways a swimmer improves is by training with the best,” Villa Park Coach Jeff Ehrlich said. “You get Janet Evans in a pool, and she’s going to help the other swimmers. They learn from each other. You get a good club team in your area and as they get more numbers, you get more quality kids (in the high school programs).”

The improvement of the club teams has trickled down to the high school programs and not just on the 4-A level.

“The fact is, there’s parity,” said Mike Pelton, who has been the coach at Mission Viejo since 1976. “It stems from the great job club teams are doing. They are putting in the time to promote the proper stroke mechanics. As a result, kids are swimming faster.”

El Dorado has flourished on the 3-A level with Evans and other products of swim clubs. Los Alamitos, which draws from FAST and the Beach Swim Club in Long Beach, won the 3-A girls’ title last season.

On the 2-A level, Woodbridge is rapidly becoming a power. The Warriors’ program has benefited from Novaquatic swimmers such as Chad Hundeby, who won the 1,000-meter freestyle at the U.S. short course championships in April.


“From what I can tell, the next coming wave is going to be in Irvine,” Pickford said. “The Novaquatics had four girls set records at the junior nationals this year. If they end up going to the same high school, watch out. It will be a powerhouse.”

It has taken time for the 4-A division to feel the effect, but Mission Viejo’s dominance has been slowly eroding. The Diablos have continued to win the 4-A boys’ meets, but the margin of victory has been decreasing.

In the past, Mission Viejo has won the meet by more than 100 points, but last season the Diablos’ margin was 44, 173-129, over Capistrano Valley.

“Mission Viejo used to have 10-12 swimmers qualify for the finals, so you never had a chance,” Ehrlich said. “This year, all it will take is four good swimmers to finish in the top four, maybe even win it.”

Capistrano Valley, Foothill, Marina, Mission Viejo and Villa Park all have those type of numbers. Capistrano Valley and Mission Viejo also have an edge in diving, in which only a few schools compete.

Capistrano Valley defeated Mission Viejo for the first time in a South Coast League boys’ dual meet this season. The Cougars also won the league meet, edging the Diablos, 353-342.


It was the first time Mission Viejo has failed to win the league meet.

The Cougars also won the girls’ league meet and are favored to repeat as 4-A champions.

“The fact is, Capistrano Valley is kind of in charge right now,” Pickford said. “That indicates that the power is still in the south (of Orange County). The nice thing is that there is change, and there will be five clubs at the meet.”

But whether parity will remain is still to be debated.

DeLong points out that Mission Viejo has three good swimmers, all from the Nadadores, who will return the Diablos to powerhouse status. Two of those swimmers, Jeff Bloomer of Minnesota and Tsukasa Kawabuchi of Japan, will swim in Friday’s meet.

Kawabuchi was declared ineligible late last season because he was not attending Mission Viejo as a member of a foreign-exchange program. He became eligible after the league meet this season and qualified for the Southern Section preliminaries in the 50- and 100-meter freestyles in a dual meet against Santa Margarita on Saturday.

Ehrlich, Cholodenko and DeLong feel that Kawabuchi’s presence might tip the scales back to the Diablos.

Kawabuchi, Bloomer and Eric Diehl of Texas, who is not eligible this season, will return to compete for Mission Viejo next season.

“The parity may only be for this year,” DeLong said. “But there is a better distribution of swimmers now. I think it’s healthy for high school swimming.”



6 FULLERTON AQUATICS SWIM TEAM TOP HIGH SCHOOL PRGRAMS DRAWING FROM EACH CLUB MISSION VIEJO NADADORES Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley Trabuco Hills El Toro SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA AQUATICS Foothill Tustin Villa Park Brea-Olinda SADDLEBACK VALLEY AQUATICS El Toro Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley Laguna Hills Trabuco Hills IRVINE NOVAQUATICS Irvine Woodbridge Corona del Mar GOLDEN WEST SWIM CLUB Marina Fountain Valley Los Alamitos Mater Dei Huntington Beach FULLERTON AQUATICS SWIM TEAM El Dorado Brea-Olinda Los Alamitos