Michael Cavic returned to Tustin High last fall with miserable memories of the Sydney Olympics.
Dual citizenship made him eligible to swim for Yugoslavia, but his failure to advance in the 100-meter backstroke and his disqualification in the preliminary of his best event, the 100 breaststroke, left him questioning his future.
But thanks to support from his high school teammates, Cavic was able to regain his competitive desire, set two records and be named The Times' Orange County boys' swimmer of the year.
The records he set came during the Southern Section Division III finals last month in Long Beach, where he won three titles. He swam the 50-yard freestyle in 20.21 seconds and the 100 butterfly in 48.26.
What makes Cavic's performance even more remarkable is that he did not taper or shave for the division finals because he is currently training for July's World Championships in Japan, where he expects to rejoin his Yugoslavian teammates.
His time in the 50 free, which he set on the opening leg of the Tillers' winning 200-yard freestyle relay, was only .04 off the national high school mark. He also won the 100 backstroke in a time of 49.85.
Besides being a member of the winning 200 freestyle relay team, he also swam on the Tillers' 400 freestyle relay team, which finished third.
Cavic, a junior, said he was questioning his competitive desire after returning from Sydney. He credits his Tustin teammates, particularly relay partners Josh Yocam, Carl Kasalek and Anthony Spezza, for making him want to get into the pool again. Cavic said he also learned the meaning of friendship from the three.
"This year was kind of special with these guys around," he said. "They really wanted it and I felt the positive energy they had and it helped me."
Cavic used his international experience to help Tustin's relay teams get better. He analyzed their strokes while seated at the bottom of the pool as they swam laps. He also helped them improve their turns.
His teammates drew strength from Cavic's enormous interest.
"For Mike to come down from his caliber of swimming to a whole different level was great," Yocam said. "He brought a lot of guys who had never been to a CIF meet before and coached us one on one. It was a lot of fun. Just with Mike taking time out of his busy schedule to help us out was great."
Though he said there were some nervous moments leading up to the relay finals, Cavic took delight in the fact that his teammates responded to his coaching.
"I learned what it means to really want something, no matter what that is," Cavic said. "These guys were all seniors. I wanted them to go out with a bang."
Tustin Coach Boyd Philpot said Cavic doesn't have a big ego like other club swimmers he has coached in the past.
"His swimming talents are obvious," Philpot said. "But he's really unselfish and team oriented. He is a pleasure to have around."
Spezza said he and his teammates appreciated Cavic's input and the pleasure he derived from it.
"It's not every day that you have an Olympian saying that we inspired him," Spezza said. "Usually it was the other way around. He inspired us."