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Salo has his teams in fast lane

Former Irvine Novaquatics and Orange Coast College coach has USC swimming program back on the national stage.

July 16, 2011|By Joe Haakenson, Special to the Daily Pilot

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.

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"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."

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