Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien
By Devin Javens, Swimming World College Intern.
The small presence of female head coaches in college swimming is extremely apparent, let alone the lack of representation in top tier NCAA Division I programs. While searching for these women, Teri McKeever and Carol Capitani are among the few who appear in the otherwise extremely overwhelming amount of male head coaches. Many women have pushed for an increase in female head coaching opportunities throughout college swimming, and in this male-dominated profession, McKeever and Capitani have become current trailblazers. Their success and presence has greatly influenced the college swimming landscape and established them as significant icons for aspiring female coaches.
McKeever has gained national recognition for being one of college swimming’s greatest coaches. She has racked up 61 relay and individual NCAA titles, in addition to her four NCAA and PAC-12 team titles respectively. Her efforts have named her PAC-12 Coach of the Year seven times and have ranked Cal in the top three teams at NCAAs for 10 consecutive years – the longest period in the nation. Additionally, she has coached 26 of her athletes to the Olympics.
McKeever has not only coached swimmers at University of California-Berkeley to success but has also extended her efforts to many swimmers nationwide. In addition to her 27 years as head coach for UC-Berkely’s women’s team, McKeever has also been appointed to the head coaching positions of Fresno State (1988-1992) and most notably, the 2012 United States Women’s Olympic Team. Her prodigies include but are not limited to Natalie Coughlin, Dana Vollmer, Jessica Hardy, Missy Franklin, and Kathleen Baker.
In addition to being one of the few female head coaches of a top tier Division I program, McKeever is the only woman to be selected as a head coach of any U.S. Olympic Swim Team. However, Dave Salo – head coach of University of Southern California – tells the NY Times that McKeever struggles with her gender defining her career. He recalls, “She wants to stand against anybody and go, ‘Look, I do this well; I do it right; I’m successful at it — no different than a man.’”
Rather than wanting to be known as “the first female head coach to…” McKeever wishes to be known for her excellence in coaching successful swimmers. By making strides to increase female head coach opportunities in college swimming, perhaps women like McKeever and their accomplishments can be normalized. After all, it isn’t their gender that makes their careers relevant – it’s their success.
Capitani began her career as head coach for the Texas Women’s Swim Team back in 2012. She has made significant strides to develop the Texas women’s swim program. On top of relationship building and a team culture revolved around success, Capitani has made an effort to bring together both of Texas men’s and women’s teams. At the 2015 ASCA Legends of Texas Clinic, she recalls her first days of coaching upon her arrival at Texas when she asked Texas men’s coach Eddie Reese if the women could join the lanes on the other side of the pool, which had previously been reserved for the men. Pushing for the two teams to come in contact with each other has contributed to the fostering of a team culture built on success, relationships, and self-confidence. After all, why should the men’s and women’s teams be completely separated?
Since her start as head coach at Texas, she has coached her women to five top 10 team rankings at NCAAs – finishing as high as fifth in 2017 – and has additionally won sixth Big 12 Championship team titles. Capitani is known for coaching many of her swimmers to success, shattering team and Big 12 records and coaching swimmers Madisyn Cox to a third-place finish in the 200 IM at the 2017 FINA World Championships and Laura Sogar to a 2013 NCAA title in the 200 breaststroke. Her continuous success has named her Big 12 Women’s Coach of the Year and has earned her national honors, such as being appointed as the head women’s coach of the 2013 Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool and the 2017 World University Games.
Both McKeever and Capitani have evolved their teams into extremely successful, top tier Division I programs. Being the few female head coaches in a male dominated field, both of these women have made impressive strides in both college swimming and at the national level just like some of their male counterparts. Their success and efforts to normalize female head coaches are perhaps starting to pave the way for more female head coaches within not only college swimming, but throughout the entire sport.
All commentaries and research are completed by the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.