Salo has his teams in fast lane

Dave Salo is right where he belongs.

Right now, it’s Japan, and later this week it’ll be Shanghai, China for the 2011 FINA World Swimming Championships.

In a couple weeks when the world championships are over, he’ll be back home in Southern California, ready to return to coaching the men’s and women’s swimming teams at USC after recently receiving a five-year contract extension from the school, continuing his tenure there that began in 2007.

Salo has been in Japan with eight members from the Trojan Swim Club, of which he is the director, for training camp in preparation for the world championships. The swimming competition (the meet includes water polo, diving, open-water swimming and synchronized swimming) begins next Sunday.

For Salo, 51, it’s par for the course in a career that has placed him at swimming pools across the world. He has coached at all levels and was recognized last year with induction to the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“I was a little surprised as I feel those honors are reserved at the conclusion of one’s career, and I feel like I have better coaching successes ahead of me,” Salo said from Japan. “As it relates to where my career has come, I was honored to be recognized by the coaches association for a job well done for my body of work.”

That doesn’t tell the half of it.

Salo has coached Olympic medalists such as Rebecca Soni, Ous Mellouli, Larsen Jensen, Lenny Krayzelburg, Gabe Woodward, Aaron Peirsol, Amanda Beard, Staciana Stitts, Colleen Lanne and Jason Lezak.

He has coached extensively at the national level, including head coaching assignments for the United States at the 2005 World Championships (men) and the 2001 Goodwill Games (men). His assistant coaching duties for the U.S. include the 2010 Short Course World Championships (women), 2004 Olympics (men), 2003 World Championships (men and women), 2002 Pan Pacific Championships (men), 2000 Olympics (women) and the 1999 Pan American Games (women).

Last year, named Salo the International Women’s Coach of the Year.

But for all Salo has accomplished and everywhere he’s been, the core of his coaching career is right here in Irvine.

From 1990-2006, Salo was the head coach of the Irvine Novaquatics, leading the Novas to numerous Junior National and U.S. National team titles and several age-group championships. He was named U.S. Swimming Coach of the Year in 2002 after leading the Novas to U.S. Spring and Summer national titles.

Leaving the Novas, though, was not such a heart-wrenching decision, Salo said, simply because USC was calling. He already had Trojan ties.

“Having been a graduate of USC (doctorate in exercise physiology in 1991) and serving as an assistant coach for the men’s team from 1984-90, it was not as difficult,” Salo said. “What made the prospect of taking over USC was the strong support from the USC administration and alums, as well as the support from Novaquatics. I still work with Novas off the deck and meet with the coaches every week.”

Salo also coached in Costa Mesa at Orange Coast College from 2000-04, more or less as a favor to a friend, and wound up leading OCC to the California state title in 2003, with Salo being chosen as the state’s co-coach of the year. The same year, he became the founding Director of Aquatics at Soka University in Aliso Viejo.

“When (OCC swimming coach) Don Watson was taking a brief sabbatical, I was asked if I could fill in, " Salo explained. “I didn’t know that it would last four years. I had a great time at OCC. Working with Don was a lot of fun and to return the state championship to OCC was awesome. OCC faculty was a great bunch of people to work with. The only reason I left my role at OCC was because I was asked to be the founding Director of Aquatics at Soka University. Three jobs might have been a little too much at a time.

“I am comfortable coaching at any level. Watching a swimmer do something they thought was not possible is energizing, and I hope that I have had something to do with that.”

Once home from the world championships at the end of the month, Salo’s focus will be on continuing USC’s climb up the national ladder, something he’s been able to do his first five seasons with the Trojans.

The Trojans women’s team placed third at the NCAA’s last season, its best finish since 2003 and the fourth consecutive season the women improved their national finish.

The men’s team’s seventh-place NCAA finish was its best since 2007 and marked its third consecutive season of improvement.

“I think we had a strong sense that our teams would have a breakthrough this past year,” Salo said. “What was more important is that the team finally had the experience we told them they would have if they followed my lead. With the conclusion of the season, all the kids on the team felt the Trojan Pride of returning to the ranks of the best teams in the country. I think we definitely have momentum on our side.”

Julian Bonse (Huntington Beach) and Patrick White (Newport Beach) are the only Orange County area swimmers expected to return for next year’s team. The team’s one Irvine area swimmer, Kevin Little from Woodbridge High and Novaquatics, graduated after last season.

“We continue to recruit from that area every year, but many times the Orange County kids consider moving outside the area for school,” Salo said. “I believe we have our eye on several young and up-and-coming prospects that we hope to land at USC in the next couple years.”

Salo got into swimming as a kid because his older brother was going to join a swim team, but the older brother wound up playing football and Salo was hooked on swimming, eventually competing at Santa Rosa JC and Long Beach State before embarking on his coaching career.

“I was an average swimmer having qualified to swim at the Junior Nationals as my culminating accomplishment,” Salo said. “I did not intend to swim at Long Beach State, but I met the first-year coach at the time (Jon Urbanchek) in a brief meeting and he needed swimmers. So I swam one year, which also was when I started my coaching career at Downey Dolfins Swim Club. Jon and I are now lifetime friends, (but) I am not sure I scored him any more than a couple points.”

Salo, though, has more than made up for it as a coach.