Noelle Harvey ready for a big finish to La Costa Canyon swimming career

Harvey fires out of the blocks in the 2019 CIF 100 backstroke.
Harvey fires out of the blocks in the 2019 CIF 100 backstroke.
(Ken Grosse)

When she was 7 years old, living in Chula Vista, Noelle Harvey was already your typical Southern California youth athlete, her plate filled with all sorts of sports, including soccer, gymnastics, swimming and track. It was around the time that her parents, David and Sara, became concerned she might be spreading herself too thin and thought it might be in her best interest to concentrate on just one.

She chose swimming and now, a decade later, that simple decision has proven to be a clear-cut winner. “Oh, I 100% love swimming, love coming to practice and, in fact, sometimes leave my house early when we have morning workouts just to sit in the parking lot and talk with my teammates,” said Harvey. “There’s so much energy at the pool, it radiates and always keeps me going no matter the situation.” It also doesn’t hurt that she’s pretty good at what she does.

A senior, a little more than two months short of graduating from La Costa Canyon High School, the Carlsbad resident is preparing to lead her school as it attempts to win a second consecutive CIF Division II Girls’ Swimming & Diving championship, April 21-24 (Covid protocols pending). Harvey, who will turn 18 in July, won two individual section titles—100 freestyle and 100 backstroke--and was part of a first place relay team as a sophomore on the Mavericks’ 2019 championship squad. And, with a college scholarship in hand from Washington State, she has what looks to be an equally promising future.

A positive, outgoing personality and an interesting conversationalist, the 5-11 Harvey is hardly one dimensional. She picked up surfing after the onset of Covid and now considers it one of her favorite pastimes. She also enjoys cooking and baking, says her varied musical tastes “can’t really be defined” and is targeting a prospective career in health care. But, first things first, like finishing her prep swimming career with a flourish.

“I don’t know if there are some ‘hidden’ kids coming up but I feel fairly confident that Noelle could win both of her individual events at CIF this year,” says her Head Coach Patty Mackle. “She’s confident, upbeat, works hard and has a good mindset.” She’ll be switching from the 100 to 200 freestyle this time around as well as looking for a repeat in the 100 backstroke.

“In the backstroke, she’s tall, lean, has good tempo and is great underwater,” added Mackle. “As far as the 200 free, she earns what she gets but she’s also just naturally gifted. Some people have an innate feel in the water and Noelle is one of them.”

As the days close in on the end of her final prep swimming campaign, Harvey took time to share her thoughts on an assortment of topics, including how swimming became her athletic focal point, the circuitous path covered before settling on Washington State for college and what she thinks of her team’s chances should this year’s San Diego CIF Championships become a reality.

Harvey celebrating with teammates following her CIF 100 backstroke victory.
Harvey celebrating with teammates following her CIF 100 backstroke victory.
(Ken Grosse)

Q—Since March of 2020 until the start of La Costa Canyon team practice in mid-February of 2021, almost a year, your high school swimming career was on an indefinite hold. Looking back, how would you describe that period?

HARVEY—In some ways, I think it was a good break. It made me realize how much I enjoyed swimming—going to the pool every day, my teammates, working to better myself and trying to reach my potential.

Honestly, it was probably good for my mental health too. In the fall of 2019, I was the most “full speed” I think I’ve ever been. I took three college trips, missed a lot of school, was working to catch up there, going through double days swimming with my club team, plus two lifting sessions a week and six classes at LCC.

Then, all of a sudden in March, it was stop, breath, focus on family and catch up on everything. I have to admit it was something I probably needed but after about three months of down time I kind of got sick of it and was anxious to get back around the friends I was missing and my regular life.

Q—How did you stay in shape for swimming over that time?

HARVEY—Surfing helped me stay in shape, especially with the freestyle strokes and aerobically. I also did a lot of running on Moonlight Beach in Encinitas—I’m not a very good runner but I had to do it.

I didn’t have any competitions between the cancellation of the high school season in 2020 and our first meet when things picked back up this winter. I was super glad to be back for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I’m ultra competitive and missed that part of the environment.

It was strange being out of the water. I can swim every day for two weeks and if I’m out of the pool for one day I feel so out of shape. The first two weeks back I felt like I was eight years old again. It took me awhile but I think I’m back to where I was pre-CoVid. I still haven’t raced in a rested situation with a speed suit but some of the times I’ve been going in practice make me optimistic about CIF. I sure hope it happens.

Q—You were involved in a number of sports as a child. What made swimming the sport of choice?

HARVEY—When my parents suggested I put my energy into one sport, I chose swimming and have been doing it ever since. Of all the sports, it was the one I liked the most and I liked the people who were involved with it. The real reason is probably not too complicated. I guess I liked whatever it is 7-year-olds like—the coaches, being on relays, I really don’t know. It was a pretty good decision though.

Q—What sort of role did your parents play in making that decision and with what’s occurred since?

HARVEY—In terms of strictly the decision-making, they were hands off, they wanted me to be happy. My dad, who tends to be hands on and has taught me a lot of life lessons, became kind of a “sub-coach” once I picked swimming—learning about the sport, evaluating options and telling me to get out of bed when it was time for an early morning workout.

On the other hand, my mom has always been there as motivator and someone self-assuring to pick me up when I got down. It’s a great combination.

Harvey was all smiles after a winning race vs. Canyon Crest in a dual meet earlier this season.
Harvey was all smiles after a winning race vs. Canyon Crest in a dual meet earlier this season.
(Ken Grosse)

Q—You also compete in club swimming for North Coast Aquatics (NCA). Club tends to be more individually-oriented than high school. What are the positives of high school swimming?

HARVEY—It’s definitely more of a team environment in high school. The opportunity to experience the group leadership side of things, bringing a team together and doing a lot of fun, team-building type activities is appealing. Another thing I like is that our club swimmers all attend different high schools so you get a chance to compete against them which is fun.

Q—What do you think makes you a good swimmer, particularly in your specialty events?

HARVEY—When you’re younger, you do everything so coaches can see what you’re good at and not so good at. I’m better at “long axis” strokes like freestyle and backstroke. Being 5-foot-11 really helps. You have more body surface to fill out with muscle. I’m a bit of a beanpole and haven’t built a lot of muscle yet but if you have two swimmers with the same strength and one is taller, I’d put odds on the taller person.

I also think the coaches I have for both high school and club are very experienced and some of the most dedicated I’ve seen. Patty (Mackle) was a great swimmer herself at University of Hawaii and so was Mickey Murad who swam at Cal. They’ve really contributed a lot to my development.

On top of that, I’m very competitive and it’s a sport where you’re racing not only the person in the next lane but the clock. That gives me a lot of inner motivation.

Q—What’s been the highlight of your swimming career to date?

HARVEY—I think I’ve had a lot of small moments as opposed to one that stands alone. Winning CIF as a team in my sophomore year (2019) was so awesome, beating a very good Cathedral Catholic, the defending champion, in the process. We had such a great group of girls that year—Bella Bram, Tegan Preston, Rachel Rhee, Erin Taggart and so many others.

Our relays were amazing and, for me, being able to swim on relays with such talented seniors was a privilege. One of those “moments” I talked about was winning the 200 medley relay and setting a CIF record. It was especially gratifying since our rival, Torrey Pines, had just broken that record in the morning session.

Of the two individual championships, the 100 backstroke was the most fun for me. Tiffany Shields of Escondido Charter was in the lane next to me in the final and we’ve been racing against each other since we were like 10 years old. She has such a good start and gets out of her turns so well—I knew the only way I was going to win was if I went at a super-speed tempo and connected every stroke. I saw my arm up before hers on the last stroke but until I saw the scoreboard, I wasn’t sure I’d won. I ended up hitting the wall .02 ahead of her.

Q—What is something most non-swimmers would be surprised to know about your sport?

HARVEY—Well, every time I tell people about weight lifting in swimming they’re always surprised. They think you don’t need muscle. As you get to more competitive points in your career, you have to spend a lot of time building your strength out of the pool. That helps improve your starts, turns and underwaters

When I swim in college, being part of a high level strength and conditioning program is one of the things I’m really looking forward to. I think that will play a big role in improving my performance.

Q—Is it different being a senior, the one others are looking to and the one expected to win every time out? What does that feel like?

HARVEY—Being a senior and having the leadership role that comes with it is great. I wanted to be part of that as a sophomore but we had a lot of accomplished seniors and nobody’s going to listen to the younger swimmers when you have that kind of experience around.

Now, I get to use my voice more and I love trying to motivate others. It’s a nice feeling to have, knowing that you might have helped somebody get better or solve a problem.

I don’t feel like I have a target on my back or anything but I do feel a lot of eyes on me, being an older swimmer, which is natural. Also, I know my college coach is following me, making sure I’m on track for five months from now and I hope the girls up there at WSU are watching my times. I know I’m watching theirs.

Overall, I feel I’m a much more relaxed swimmer now than when I was younger. It’s still important to perform well but I try not to get stressed.

Q—What are your team expectations this season?

HARVEY—I think we do have a chance to defend our CIF team championship, if we play our cards right. Our coaches have to look at each swimmer’s strengths and figure out how to ge the most people in finals where they can score points.

Cathedral Catholic is going to be tough as always in Division II but I know they’ve lost a lot since finishing second to us in 2019. It’s a crazy year, though, and I think every school is in the same situation as us, kind of recovering and rebuilding after CoVId. We have some top swimmers like Ava Delaney and Brooke Dunphy and a lot of others who are ready to step up. It’s going to be close but I think our girls are in a good place and have the talent to win it again.

Q—Do people at school know who you are?

HARVEY—Swimming is not necessarily one of the better known sports at LCC but I think a lot of people know who we are. One of the coolest moments in my career was when I was named LCC Athlete of the Month in the spring of my sophomore year. The vice principal came into my English class, recognized me and gave me a goody bag—a certificate, some apparel, that kind of thing.

It was fairly simple, but I loved the affirmation. Football players and even soccer and lacrosse players can do anything and get attention. My classmates were all asking me questions about the swimming & diving team so there was attention all around which was great

Q—What’s your take about online teaching?

HARVEY—I haven’t been in a classroom on campus since March 13 of 2020 which is really strange. I’ve been able to keep up my normal GPA (3.8) and it feels like we’re still learning at the same level.

It seems like some of the teachers are a little more relaxed and we have a lot more projects and a lot fewer tests. We do a lot of collaborative projects and right now I’m doing a group math project on sampling distribution—collecting data and analyzing it.

I’ll have to admit I like some aspects of being at home. Like being able to wake up at 7:30 AM instead of 6:00 AM or earlier. I get to come down, make a good breakfast then go back upstairs for class. Lunch is sort of the same. I’ve never had much time for meal preparation so it’s helped with my nutrition.

Q—What’s been your favorite class at LCC?

HARVEY—Definitely anatomy my junior year which was taught by Cindi Schildhouse. I really like science and anatomy in particular—learning about the body and how it works.

I love the hands on stuff. We were halfway through dissecting cats when CoVid hit. Now I’m taking her AP biology class. I love Ms. Schildhouse’s teaching style. She always explains our assignments so thoroughly but lets you do them on your own. She’s hands off in that regard. I plan to major in biology at WSU with my eyes set on some type of career in pediatric surgery so her classes fit in well with that.

Q—There were some bumps in the road with regard to your college planning? What happened?

HARVEY—It’s a pretty interesting story. Originally, I committed to Iowa in October of 2019. They have a beautiful pool and a great biology/medical program. I was all set.

Then, in August of 2020, I had a bit of an “uh-oh” moment. Iowa cut its swim-dive program and it was like “what am I supposed to do now?” I was thrown back in the recruiting pool but by that time it was very late and most of the top options were out of scholarship money and were only offering walk-on spots. Not to mention that it was very awkward re-opening dialogue with schools I had previously turned down.

Q—How did Washington State come into the picture?

HARVEY—Washington State (WSU) was not even on my radar but Matt Leach, the head coach, contacted me shortly after the Iowa announcement, which was way better than me contacting him. He said he had looked at me before and after seeing what happened at Iowa decided to see if I would be interested.

That was the first time we talked. I visited campus a few weeks later. He’s been there for three years. He swam for Indiana, one of the historically great programs in the country, so I know he has had exposure to great coaching, the championship mentality and life lessons that he’s brought to WSU.

The Pac-12 is the best conference in the country. WSU was at the bottom when he started but there’s already been noticeable progress and I love the idea about being part of building a program. Beating teams like Stanford is unrealistic at the moment but he’s brought in a good group of swimmers (there are five girls in my class) and all of their times are right there with the top 10 all-time marks at WSU.

I see those records and just think, “I’m coming.” I want to work hard, be a leader and leave a mark at WSU.