Catching Up With: Jeff Stevens

Richard Dunn

When swimming standout Jeff Stevens of Newport Harbor High set the

school record in the 50-yard freestyle 25 years ago, his initial response

wasn't to celebrate.

"In a sense, I was very disappointed, because I came up short of my

goal (of 21.5)," said Stevens, the school-record holder in the event at

21.60 -- believed to be the oldest mark in Newport Harbor's record book.

Stevens (circa 1977) also broke the school record in the 100 free at

47.01, and recalls coming up just short of his goal (46.0) in that event,

as well.

"Athletes remember their greatest defeats and greatest victories,"

said Stevens, who swam All-American times in five events at Newport

Harbor, where he was also a water polo star under Coach Bill Barnett.

Stevens enjoyed an outstanding collegiate aquatics career, earning a

water polo scholarship to USC and playing four years for the Trojans. "We

never won a national championship unfortunately, but we were always in

the top four," Stevens said. "We had the best players, but we didn't have

the best teams."

After thumbing through some recent Daily Pilot sports pages, Stevens

took a trip down memory lane.

"When I read that (Honors list of CIF boys swimming champions), I got

a little nostalgic and started thinking back," said Stevens, whose name

did not appear on the page, yet he began reliving how close he really

came in the 1977 CIF Southern Section 4-A finals at Belmont Plaza, where

he finished second in the 50 free and fourth in the 100 free.

On the other hand, the subtitle of the Honors list proclaims that

records are meant to be broken, but in Stevens' case, only Colin Thompson

(Class of '83) has tied the mark of 21.6 in the 50 free.

And, with Aaron Peirsol around for his senior year at Newport Harbor,

it makes things rather intriguing, considering Peirsol's split (20.6)

would shatter Stevens' record by a full second.

"I hope (Peirsol) does break it, and not somebody else who just moved

here," Stevens said. "I read in the Daily Pilot I believe where he said,

or his coach said, that he was going to break all the school records,

except for John Moffet's record in the breaststroke."

When told the 2000 Olympic silver medalist in the 200-meter backstroke

(1:57.03) would probably not swim the 50 free this season, Stevens said

"I hope he reads this and I hope he breaks it. I think he can do it. He

was on that All-American 200 free relay last year ... he's pretty fast

and he's going to grow."While the sprint events are not Peirsol's

specialty, his 20.6 as the anchor on last year's CIF Division I 200 free

relay (1:26.09), which included Joey Snelgrove, Steve Jendrusina and

Peter Belden, leaves no doubt whether Peirsol could break the school's

oldest swimming record.

Contacted Saturday for a response to Stevens' challenge, Peirsol said

"that would be cool ... records are meant to be broken."

Initially, Peirsol said the 50 free wouldn't be an event he'd consider

swimming, but, based on this weekend's news, it appears the senior

sensation will pick his spot and lick his chops at the antiquated school

record.

Stevens, meanwhile, who will be among Peirsol's biggest fans in 2002,

continues to swim in a masters program every morning before the sun comes

up.

"What motivates me to swim is surfing. You need to be in shape to

surf, so I swim," said Stevens, who surfs with his 11-year-old son, Rush,

and will turn 43 on Feb. 16.

Stevens, who lives in Newport Heights with his wife, Nili, and son, is

a program manager and designer at the Planning Center in Costa Mesa,

which focuses on new communities and urban development.

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