Missy Franklin is about as close to a sure thing as there is in swimming these days. After taking the Olympics by storm, Franklin returned to the high school pool and dominated Colorado competition to lead Aurora (Colo.) Regis Jesuit School to a state title. Along the way, Franklin committed to swim at the University of California and rolled through just about every national competitor she lined up against … except for a future teammate.
In one of the quirks of top level swimming, Missy Franklin has now proven that she can beat just about anyone in the world at most strokes, but she couldn’t beat future Cal teammate Celina Li, a fellow high school senior from Pleasanton (Calif.) Foothill High, when the two competed in the 200-meter individual medley at the AT&T Winter National Championships. Li finished that race with a time of 1:55.28 with Franklin hitting the wall at 1:55.88.
As noted in a terrific profile of Li from MaxPreps, the Foothill senior is a far cry from a physically imposing figure like Franklin, but still manages to fly through the pool. Li stands just 5-foot-3, a height which assuredly puts her at a significant setback when competing against the likes of Franklin and other international stars. Yet what Li lacks in physical presence she makes up for in her technical talent, with her club coach claiming that the teen has “impeccable strokes.”
Li has never let her height affect her enthusiasm for the pool, either. She trained in both swimming and gymnastics growing up, but decided that swimming was a safer sport once she began to reach the more advanced levels of gymnastics.
"You don't see a whole lot of shorties like me," Li told MaxPreps. "I like being short though. … I don't think height matters as much as how determined you are and how much heart you put into it."
That attitude likely resonated with Franklin, with the pair reportedly bumping into each other during the recruiting process and getting along quite well (Li said of Franklin, “she really is the nicest person.”).
Between the two incoming freshmen, Cal could have quite a Class of 2017, with both swimmers likely to earn berths to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, provided that they stick with the sport between now and then.
"She's incredibly strong and very flexible. ... She may be small, but she always swims big,” Foothill coach Lauren Andrade told MaxPreps. “She has the heart of a lion. She swims with such courage. She's fearless and unafraid.
"The thing about Celina is that she's just so versatile. She's just scratching the surface to all she can do.”