Most people wind their way down Highway 101 to North Bend, Ore., for its proximity to ocean beaches, golf courses and shopping. Boise State women's swimming and diving head coach Kristin Hill has made a habit of traveling to the small coastal city on the banks of Coos Bay for another reason-its swimming prodigies.
In 2007, Denise Green became one of the cornerstones for Hill to build her new program. Green joined six fellow freshman that season as building blocks for the second-year team.
Green became a Bronco after a decorated career as a Bulldog. She was a six-time state champion at North Bend High School. She brought home the 100-yard backstroke title three times, and added wins in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle events.
Less than three years later she helped culminate the program's rise to prominence. Boise State won the 2010 Western Athletic Conference Championship going away. Green contributed to 84 points, making the finals of three individual events and helping the Broncos to victory in the 400-yard medley relay. Months before that, hard work paid off in a different area.
The Broncos inked another North Bend standout, Rachel Heaney.
Heaney also won six individual state championships in high school, including a four-year sweep of the 500-yard freestyle. She was named team MVP three times, as well as earning three scholastic All-American honors while at North Bend.
Teammates since Heaney took up swimming at age 8, the duo led North Bend to a state championship in 2007. Since Green graduated, Heaney guided the Bulldogs to a second-place finish at the state meet in 2010, while racking up a host of individual honors. Her prep career climaxed when she earned a U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying time in the 200-yard butterfly. Green kept tabs on Heaney, who she calls basically a sister, and knew she had to get her to Boise.
"I knew this program would be really good for her," Green said of her former prep teammate. "Our club coach (Chris Richmond) agreed and he kind of-in a round-about way-helped nudge her in our direction. I knew she would be a great asset to the team. She works so hard, and she's pushed me ever since I was 12, that's for sure."
Though Green was confident Boise State and Heaney were perfect for each other, it was not such an easy pitch. In the end, Heaney said it sold itself.
"When Denise signed, that kind of put it out there for me," Heaney said. "I still wasn't even really thinking about it, but she loved it here so much. When it came time to take my recruiting trips, I thought, 'why not?' Obviously Kristin is a really great coach, and Justin, and the nursing program was another huge reason I came."
It was about more than just what the swimming program and school had to offer, though. For Heaney, the intangibles of Boise State played a role in her decision.
"One of the main things I was looking for when I was looking at schools was a really close group of girls. That's exactly what it is here. Everyone is kind of like your sister. You're just part of a family."
In addition to the family atmosphere, Heaney wanted to be able to compete and work for something greater than her own individual goals.
"There are all different levels of speed, obviously, but everyone knows they have a certain amount of potential, and we're all willing to do what we can to get to our common goal."
Working hard to attain their goals is nothing new for Green and Heaney. Both swimmers agree their North Bend roots, especially coach Chris Richmond, helped instill a blue-collar attitude.
"He has had a huge impact. We both swam for the same team forever, and had him as a coach until we came here. Our work ethic I definitely feel is very strong and I would attribute that to Chris."
Green said it goes beyond the work ethic for her. She credits everything she achieved in her first 15 years of swimming to Richmond.
"I started swimming when I was 4 and left when I was 18, and Chris was my only coach," Green pointed out. "He really became like a second father to me. He figured out how to make us faster. Our aerobic base is because of him. How we are as swimmers today is because of him."
Heaney expanded on the idea of the aerobic base Richmond built for his understudies. With his training as a sort of framework, the pair is able to take Hill's teaching and create a fine-tuned swimmer.
"I think, for club swimmers, Chris set up the perfect base," said Heaney. "By the time you get (to college), you're ready to learn again. I think when you swim for a long time, you just kind of get used to it. It's an everyday thing, and it can be easy to get bored or tired or forget your goal. But then when you come here and you start to learn new things, you swim faster in practice, it's just really fun because it's a huge confidence booster, and it's fun again."
Now that they are both on campus at Boise State, Green hopes to finish what she started, while Heaney is set to push the program to new heights.
As a senior, Green has begun to reflect on her time as a collegiate athlete, specifically at Boise State.
"Division one athletes are one percent of high school athletes," Green said. "We get to experience something that hardly anyone gets to do. It's so interesting and so cool to just watch all of it happen. To kind of step back and see, for instance, the big steps Rachel has made since high school. I've watched her grow up and seeing her make this big jump from high school to college, and watching her grow as a swimmer, and it's really cool to see that. Having the support system that we do at BSU is huge. It's so amazing, and I wish more people could experience it."
Heaney is trying to take it all in stride.
"Even though I've been here for a few months, I still feel like I'm in the thick of it-just getting used to everything. It's so different from training with a team that I've been with for 10 years," the freshman said.
One of the constants for many of those 10 years of club and high school swimming in North Bend was Green. Heaney knows the transition was easier because of their relationship.
"It was really nice coming in because I already knew Denise," Heaney said. "It's nice to have someone to talk to and be able to transition."
Not only is there a familiar face to talk to, but Green has found herself talking about Heaney more often.
"Our families are really close, so it's fun," Green said. "I call home, and my parents always ask, 'how's Rachel doing?' They end up asking more about her than they do about me. It's really cool to have an experience like this, and to share it with someone I've known for half my life."
Both women are doing their best to make the most of the unique opportunity. The Boise State swimming and diving program is reaping the rewards.
Green has achieved four lifetime bests already this season, including lowering her own school record in the 50-yard backstroke. She also holds school records in the 100-yard and 200-yard backstrokes.
Heaney did not take long to make her mark on the Bronco program. In just her fourth collegiate meet she broke the school record in the 200-yard butterfly. She has won the event twice this season, and owns the best time in the conference.
"We never talked about swimming together in college, but we knew we would want to pursue a collegiate career. We never thought it would actually come down to this," Green reflected. "It's fun to have her on the same team again."
The Broncos return to action Jan. 7, at UCLA, and Jan. 9, at the San Diego Relays.Boise State junior Morgan McLain is featured in a story today by Chris Mangan of the Capital Journal in McLain's hometown of Pierre, S.D. Read the story HERE.