The Big Splash

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If the company you keep has any bearing on what direction your future will take, San Clemente's Kristen Caverly is on a fast track to Olympic glory.

Without being fully tapered, Caverly, The Times' Orange County girls' swimmer of the year, broke five records in May, all set by former Olympians.

Caverly, a junior, hopes it is a sign of things to come.

In the Southern Section Division I finals she broke Staci Stitts' state record in the 100-yard breaststroke and Amanda Beard's Division I mark. In the 200 individual medley she broke Allison Wagner's national public high school record and Kaitlin Sandeno's Division I record.

Two weeks later at the Speedo Grand Challenge, she topped Beard's meet record in the 200-meter breaststroke.

"Just to even think you are close to being like them . . .," Caverly said. "It's encouraging to think I'm on track to do something like that."

Caverly's times in both the 200 individual medley and the 100 breaststroke just missed overall national high school records. She broke Wagner's public school record in the individual medley with a time of 1:58.86. Wagner, who won a silver medal in the 400-meter individual medley at the 1996 Olympics, swam a 1:58.91 in 1994 while at Eastside High in Gainesville, Fla. Tami Ransom of Ursuline Academy in Cincinnati set the overall national record of 1:58.76 this year.

"If Kaitlin had been in the [Division I] race she probably would have beat me," Caverly said. "But I was really happy with that time."

In the 100-yard breaststroke Caverly's winning time of 1:01.67 beat Beard's mark of 1:01.79. Beard set that previous mark at Irvine High as she prepared for the 1996 Olympics. Caverly was only 0.20 seconds shy of Olympian Kristy Kowal's national record (1:01.47) set in 1996.

"Breaking Amanda's record was probably the best," Caverly said, "because it took me forever to get to that point."

Caverly also performed in the relays, capping the finals with Sarah Jones, Stephanie Cadman, and Stephanie Chambers to tie the state record of 1:36.71 in the 200 freestyle relay and also break the Division I mark of 1:36.94.

"I improved all my times a bunch," Caverly said. "It was definitely a breakthrough year for me."

Caverly and her teammates accomplished the goals set out for the Tritons' swim team this year. With the Division I title all but mounted in Irvine's trophy case, San Clemente's aim was for second place.

In the Long Beach Millikan relays the Tritons finished second to Irvine and at the Southern Section finals Irvine was first with 294 points and San Clemente second with 178, just edging Laguna Hills.

"We were really happy to take second," Caverly said. "Everyone knew Irvine was going to win, but after Sarah [Jones] won the 50 freestyle it really pumped us up for the rest of the meet."

Jones broke the 17-year-old mark of 23.07 set by Whittier Christian's Jenna Johnson in 1984. Jones won in 23.04, her fourth consecutive title in the event.

As far as next year's high school season is concerned, Caverly has no definite goal. But the national records piqued her interest.

"What is the national breaststroke record anyway?" she asked. "That might be fun to get next year."

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