March 11, 2010
STANFORD, Calif. - There's no telling if Diane Sawyer boasts about being related to Elaine Breeden, or if Johnny Depp does the same. But they can, if they choose.
That's because Breeden has certainly provided enough moments to make her family - and distant relatives - proud. A 2008 Olympic relay silver medalist, Breeden heads into the final meet of her collegiate career with a chance to add to her 19 All-America honors at the NCAA Championships as March 18-20 in West Lafayette, Ind.
Like Breeden in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly, Stanford is a national championship contender as well, in search of its first national title since 1998 and 10th overall. Stanford is tied for collegeswimming.com's No. 1 ranking with Georgia.
"We know we're capable of it, but it's going to take a lot of big swims, and a lot of things falling into place," Breeden said. "I know that every one of our swimmers has a very good chance of scoring, and I don't think many other teams can say that."
Whether Sawyer or Depp pays any attention is another story. Sawyer, the ABC-TV news anchor, is the first cousin of Breeden's grandmother.
"We actually get to see her," said Breeden, a native of Lexington, Ky. "She's been to my house before. It's not one of those distant relatives that you've never met.
"Now, Johnny Depp, I've definitely never met."
The Depp connection: Breeden's grandfather's uncle is Depp's grandfather. Got it?
No worries. Breeden isn't quite sure either. But someone might want to alert Depp at his French chateau that Breeden is a two-time NCAA 200 fly champion and will competing in both butterfly events, as well as the 200 individual medley and the 200 and 400 medley relays, at the upcoming nationals.
After the meet, Breeden's Stanford career will be over - an era that may be recalled as a modern golden age with a 46-1 four-year dual-meet record and coach Lea Maurer's first Pac-10 Conference title. Breeden captured five conference butterfly championships in that span setting NCAA and American records in the process.
However, like fellow 2008 Olympian Julia Smit, Breeden will push on after this season to train at Stanford through the 2012 London Games.
Much is made of the value of experience and Breeden definitely sees it as an advantage.
"The NCAA's are an emotional roller-coaster," said Breeden, perhaps more than any other meet she's been involved in other than the Olympic trials. "W talk about living and dying with each race, you have to find a way not to do that.
"You're so focused on every single point that's scored. And you're going to have some races that go your way and some that don't. If you focus so much on the ups and downs, it's going to get in your way."
Instead, Breeden, 19-time All-America Smit, and nine-time All-America Kate Dwelley, have all been in these situations before and have performed under pressure.
"I'm prepared for how emotionally intense it is," Breeden said. "Instead of worrying about it, I'm excited about it, because I know how to handle it."
Some of that experience is knowing to how to push aside negative thoughts.
The team has begun to taper, cutting back on morning practices, hard workouts and weight training, moving instead to yoga, stretching and enough swimming to stay sharp.
Tapering can create mind games, Breeden said, because you expect to feel good because of the relative rest, but sometimes don't.
"I've actually gotten pretty good at getting negative thoughts out of my head," she said. "The more you allow stuff like that to creep in, the more of a distraction it's going to be. I've gotten to the point where, even if I don't feel good the day of my swim, you've got to overcome it.
"I've been swimming for 16 years now, and I've come to the conclusion that it's not about how you feel, it's about how you race."
That's good, because Breeden knows she will be hurting in the 200 fly.
"The 200 fly, 400 IM and mile are the ones that nobody ever wants to do," she said. At least the 200 fly is the shortest of those."
Breeden learned just how grueling the 200 fly was during a competition in Australia when she was 14. Leading by a substantial margin during the last 25 yards, Breeden hit the proverbial wall.
"I was out ahead of everybody and, all of a sudden, I was getting passed by everybody. I was not moving. And when I touched the wall, I actually touched it and slid down into the water. I was actually grabbing at the wall and I couldn't get out. It was awful."
Breeden uses the difficulty of the race to her advantage. She has developed a talent for finishing strong, for making up deficits down the homestretch.
"If you've ever watched a 200 fly, I'm pretty sure you're going to see some athletes that you'll want to jump in and try to save," she said. "Sometimes, it just gets pretty ugly. But I can't worry about that. I have to trust in my training and trust in my coaches and the preparation we've done. And have the confidence that it'll be there when I need it."
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MEN'S BASKETBALL: The makings of a successful season
Injuries, medical issues and even an academic issue decimated a team that still was still recovering from the abrupt resignation of coach Trent Johnson after the 2007-08 season.
However, the Cardinal team that was predicted to finish last in the conference instead won seven Pac-10 contests and built a 13-17 overall record.
"I try to teach my guys life lessons as well as basketball, and one of them is, You can't do anything about the circumstances that occur, all you can do is control what's in front of you," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "And our kids have never looked back once. We're not an excuse-making team. That's not what we're about."
Asked his definition of a successful season, Dawkins offered this:
"That's always defined by the group that you have. I'd like to say, `Go undefeated and win a national championship.' That would be an unbelievable season. But let's look at the group and the goals and what you thought the group can accomplish. You always measure them by that alone. It isn't by wins and losses.
"Do every night they go out and compete at the highest level? Were they very competitive? Did they win? You have to win games, of course. If you look at their body of work that way, you make a judgment on a successful season for that group. Each group is different. That's how I've kind of looked at it for our guys. I've been very proud of our kids' efforts and their character."
Senior co-captain Drew Shiller offered his own definition of success, as the team prepared for conference tournament:
"As a competitor, the way I see it is if we don't win the Pac-10 tournament or do well, I wouldn't consider this a successful season, from the standpoint of you didn't reach your goal.
"Our goal was to win the Pac-10, make the NCAA tournament and leave our legacy as seniors as a team that defied all odds and did what nobody expected us to. That would be a really cool story to have. We didn't do it in the regular season, but we still have a chance."
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MEN'S BASKETBALL: Fields not disappointed, but team is
Stanford senior co-captain Landry Fields, the leading scorer in the Pac-10 (22.2 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (8.7 rpg) shook off any disappointment at being passed over as the conference Player of the Year in favor of Jerome Randle of first-place Cal.
"It was a goal of mine," Fields said. "You can't ignore that other players in the league did outstanding jobs on outstanding teams. To be the best player on the best team, you have to take a really hard look at that. I'm very happy for Jerome, he's earned it."
Shiller thought Fields deserved the award.
"If you took Landry off our team and took some other guys off their teams, how would that team fair?" Shiller said. "I think the team without Landry would be in a lot of trouble. I think he'd be the most valuable player. And you can't argue with his statistics."
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MEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Vandermeer's excuse
Jake Vandermeer, the former Stanford club player who made the nation's No. 1 volleyball team as a walk-on this year, missed the Cardinal's victory over Long Beach State on Saturday. And he had a very good reason.
Vandermeer, a sophomore, was in New Orleans presenting a medical research paper to the Orthopaedic Research Society, a rare honor for an undergraduate to such distinguished scholars. The paper's title was: Local Administration of Ibandronate and Bone Morphogenetic Protein-2 Stimulates Osteogenesis Following Ischemic Necrosis of the Immature Femoral Head. It proposed a new treatment for Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease, the hip injury that ended Bo Jackson's football career.
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HOME EVENT OF THE WEEK: Synchronized Swimming Nationals
Stanford's next best chance at a 112th national team championship happens at Avery Aquatic Center with the U.S. Collegiate Nationals for synchronized swimming.
The event began Thursday and continues through Saturday, with Stanford seeking its fifth national title in six years and its seventh overall.
The Cardinal completed an undefeated regular season and captured the West Regional title. The nationals is an open-class meet, which means Stanford will be competing against teams from NCAA Divisions I, II, and III and the NAIA.
Tickets will be sold at the gate. An adult all-session pass will be $25 while student all-session passes will be $15. Tickets for Thursday and Friday will be $8 for adults and $5 for students, youth and senior citizens. Tickets for Saturday will be $12 for adults and $8 for students, youth and senior citizens.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics
Ideas for future notebook items are welcomed. Please contact David Kiefer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Past editions of the weekly Cardinal Insider can be found on the main page of gostanford.com by clicking on "General Releases" from the "Sports" pull-down menu.