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January 20, 2006

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 20, 2006

A fast A fast (January 20, 2006)start for Maurer

Women's new coach faces challenges

by Keith Peters

Lea Maurer knew she'd be facing plenty of challenges when she took over last fall as head coach of the Stanford women's swim team.

One of the first challenges was to put some expectations behind her. There was no way she was going to immediately fill the shoes left by veteran Richard Quick, who in 17 years at Stanford won seven NCAA team championships and was regarded as one of the finest swim coaches in the world.

In Quick's first 11 years on The Farm, his teams finished no lower than second at the NCAA meet.

"Obviously, there's pressure (taking over for Quick) but it's exciting," said Maurer, who swam for Quick on three NCAA championship teams (1992-94) when she was Lea Loveless. "I know what Stanford expects. I feel like it's our responsibility to win NCAA's."

While Quick accomplished that in his first season at Stanford, Maurer knows that's not realistic because of another challenge she faces --- competing this season without Olympian Caroline Bruce.

Bruce, who swam in the 2004 Summer Games and followed that with a sensational freshman year at Stanford, had shoulder surgery last spring and will be sidelined for the season.

"Taking her out is a big hurdle for the girls," Maurer said. "We felt we were making strides toward being prepared for a great NCAA meet this season. Now, I just don't know who's going to step up and help replace those points."

While the Cardinal has produced a 10-0 dual-meet record thus far, the real tests are just coming up. Nationally No. 3-ranked Stanford hosts No. 5 Arizona (4-0, 5-0) on Friday at 1 p.m., followed by a meet with unranked Arizona State (1-2, 3-4) on Saturday at 2 p.m. Both Pac-10 meets are in Avery Aquatic Complex.

The Cardinal then will travel next week to face USC and UCLA.

Bruce won NCAA titles in both the 100- and 200-yard breaststrokes last season, was ranked No. 4 nationally in the 200 IM, No. 5 in the 400 IM and swam legs on both medley relay teams. She finished second on the high-point list at the NCAA meet. Losing her forces Maurer to not only juggle her lineup, but perhaps load a few extra events on her veterans to make up for the automatic points lost from Bruce's absence.

Maurer will have to count on a solid core of returning All-Americans and letter winners that includes 2004 Olympians Kristen Caverly and Dana Kirk, fellow senior Laura Davis; juniors Cassidy Krug (diving), Morgan Hentzen, Lauren Costella and Desiree Stahley and sophomores Brooke Bishop and Elizabeth Durot.

Bishop, the former Mountain View High star, is primed for a big season after breaking out last summer. She won six events (four individual, two relays) in a 192-156 dual-meet win over Texas last fall. Her career-best 1:56.75 victory in the 200-yard back put her into a tie for No. 5 on Stanford's all-time list.

Durot helped the Cardinal win all but one of 18 events in the three-day Speedo Cup in November and was named the Swimmer of the Meet after winning the 200, 500 and 1,650 freestyles.

Caverly, an Olympian in the 200 back, has been plagued by back problems throughout her career and will be week to week. She'll likely concentrate on the 200 breast and individual medleys.

"The focus is on her having a great senior year and great NCAA meet," Maurer said of Caverly.

Kirk likely will compete in additional events like the freestyles and individual medleys in addition to her specialty - the butterfly. She ranks No. 4 in school history in both the 100 and 200 flys.

Maurer also hopes to have her strong freshman class contribute, like Andrea Axtell (back, free, fly), Madeline Rovira (sprint freestyles) and Laura Wadden (back, fly). Maurer also successfully recruited freshman Heather West from the water polo team. West, a top high school swimmer at Davis, will compete in the breaststroke while continuing to train for water polo, her No. 1 priority.

Maurer has a great freshman class coming in for the 2006-07 season, which will coincide with Bruce's return. For now, however, the goals will be simple.

"Our challenge this year will be to see how many bodies can we get to NCAAs," Maurer said. "And, is there a way to walk away with hardware (top-four finish)."

Maurer likes how the team has come together in a family sort of way and how it has performed up to now. She'll have a better idea of what to expect later in the season following the next two weekends of competition.

"This is the big test, this weekend and next," Maurer said.

Maurer, for one, has been good at passing tests. From 1990-94, she won 10 NCAA individual and relay titles for Stanford. She captured three straight 100 back titles and added a 200 back crown in 1993. She was a member of the 400 free relay (1993) and 800 free relay (1992) teams was set school records that remain today.

Maurer still ranks No. 2 on Stanford's list of all-time performers in the 100 and 200 back and held the American record in the 100-meter back from 1992-2001. She won a silver medal on the 400 medley relay team and a bronze in the 100 back at the '92 Barcelona Olympics.

"I've been to the top," she said. "I know how to get there . . . I've always held myself to high expectations."

And now Maurer is having her own swimmers do the same. A new era in Stanford women's swimming is under way and, more importantly, it's off to a good start.

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