It was a difficult decision made easy. When it came time to decide on colleges, Marti Carlson, a standout swimmer at Olympia High in Washington state, knew where to go to compete: California.
The only question was: to which school?
J. R. Martin, who coached Carlson through her junior year in high school, wrote letters to several colleges on her behalf. Available: high school record-holder in the backstroke and freestyle. Requirements: warm weather and an outdoor swimming pool.
Coach Pete Accardy, whose Cal State Northridge program offered both, answered the call.
Northridge was stepping up to NCAA Division I competition for the first time and Accardy was looking for talent to develop.
So far, the match has worked rather well. In her freshman season, Carlson has recorded Northridge's fastest times in the 100-yard backstroke (1 minute 2.98 seconds) and 200-yard backstroke (2:13.23) going into the Pacific Conference finals in Las Vegas this weekend.
All of which does not surprise her coaches one bit.
"She's got all the correct mechanics," said Martin, who now coaches at the Industry Hills Aquatic Club. "She's got a great heart and listens very well. She's a coach's dream."
Accardy, whose Northridge women's teams earned top-three finishes in Division II in 10 of the past 11 years, has survived on a shoestring budget by recruiting swimmers such as Carlson, who boasted a wealth of untapped potential.
"Our strength is that we've developed a lot of swimmers," Accardy said. "They come into the program and one or two years down the road, you'll have a good swimmer."
What he needs now are more swimmers who can make major strides as quickly as Carlson. "We're optimistic in terms of where the program is going," Accardy said. "It takes a few years to develop a quality program."
At Olympia, Carlson already had shown that she had considerable talent. She led the team to a state title in 1988 and a second-place finish in 1990. In 1989, with Carlson out because of a broken leg, the Bears fell to seventh. Carlson, a four-year letterman, holds Olympia's record in the 100-yard backstroke (1:00.08) and 100-yard freestyle (54.53).
Despite a bout of mononucleosis in November, Carlson has been a steady contributor for the Matadors, who are 8-5 in dual meets. She set a personal best in the 200-yard backstroke in a dual meet against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo three weeks ago. Her best in the 100-yard backstroke came in a dual meet against USC last month. While both times are well off Division I qualifying times, Carlson is not concerned.
"Now that it's (the program) Division I, I've set my standards higher," Carlson said. "(In) Division II, I would have made the nationals and that would not have been a problem. Before, my goal was to win nationals. Now, my goal is to make nationals. I doubt I'll do it this year, but hopefully I'll do it in my junior year."
Accardy shares a similar opinion. "I have high hopes for Marti," Accardy said. "Her sickness in the beginning of the season will affect her times this year, but in the future, she has a good chance of making the Division I championships."
Carlson got a taste of the work that lies ahead during the past few weeks while training for the conference meet. Northridge swimmers have been put through double workouts in addition to weight training.
"We've been working harder than we have all season," Carlson said. "Now is the worst time because all you see are the hard workouts ahead, but when conference comes, it's all worth it."
Besides, things could be worse.
"I've always wanted to swim in the sun and be down here," Carlson said. "Just the other day it was 84 (degrees) and sunny. It's nothing like Washington. I'll call home and my parents tell me there's a foot of snow."