Kara Lynn Joyce, Candice Davis

The Ann Arbor News, July 30, 2003

 

Pioneer's Davis, Joyce become friends, compare notes on being Olympic-caliber athletes
By ROB HOFFMAN
News Sports Reporter


In a way, it's no surprise that Candice Davis and Kara Lynn Joyce became fast friends.

After all, during their two years together at Pioneer High School, Joyce and Davis shared so many common experiences. The classmates who looked at them in awe. The teachers who made sure they autographed their class assignments, just so that one day they could whip out that term paper and say "See? I taught her when…"

But Joyce, known in Pioneer's hallways as the "swimmer girl in Sports Illustrated," was only peripherally aware of Davis, the three-time state champion in the 100-meter hurdles, until last fall. That's when the two found themselves in the same early morning 20th century literature class.

Before too long, Pioneer's best swimmer ever and best track athlete ever were not just sitting next to each other. They were working on class projects together. Sharing notes on recruiting visits. Commiserating over the classes or school events they had to miss because of some out-of-state national competition. Discovering little details about each other's lives, such as the fact that they were born within one day of each other: Davis on Oct. 26, 1985; Joyce on Oct. 25, 1985.

"We think a lot alike," Davis said. "We get along great."

One other thing: Their classmates and teachers, used to watching Joyce and Davis win their events more easily than a fifth-grader playing dodge ball against a kindergarten class, saw them as superstar athletes that were just two steps away from mounting an Olympic medal stand. But years of much tougher national competition, away from their friends and family, had given Davis and Joyce a different perspective on their success.

"The people in our class think we're the greatest thing," said Davis, two-time winner of the Miss Michigan Track and Field Award. "But we see the wider spectrum."

Just how wide that spectrum is, and where Davis and Joyce fit within it, should become more clear in the near future. Next month, the two teen-agers leave for college as the prize recruits of elite programs: Joyce to the University of Georgia, Davis to the University of Southern California.

The big fishes from Pioneer's pond are about to enter the ocean for good.

"It's not going to be a walk in the park," said Joyce, a New York native who moved to Ann Arbor as a junior.

The year that was
Outside Pioneer High School on a recent sunny afternoon, Davis and Joyce warmly greet each other for the first time since their graduation.

One look at both 17-year-olds tells you all you need to know about how their years have gone so far.

Joyce looks relaxed and refreshed, just a few days after winning the 100 freestyle and finishing second in the 50 freestyle at the Janet Evans Invitational in Los Angeles. It's just the latest triumph in a breakthrough year that has turned Joyce into one of the country's top short-distance swimmers. She beat multiple Olympic medalist Jenny Thompson in a U.S.-Australia dual meet, broke Dara Torres' U.S. Open record in the 50 freestyle and set four national records (one was later broken in California) at the Division 1 state high school meet in November. Her time of 22.04 seconds in the 50, the fifth-fastest ever, helped Joyce garner National High School Swimmer of the Year honors from Swimming World magazine. Next month, she'll go to the Dominican Republic to compete in the Pan-Am Games.

In one sense, Joyce is not surprised by her success. She has always improved by leaps and bounds, dropping a second off her 50 freestyle time every year since she was a seventh-grader.

But it does seem a little unreal to someone who has been hooked on swimming since, as a 7-year-old, watched Summer Sanders win four medals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. I'm going to do that too, she told her parents. If they rolled their eyes, they never did it in her presence.

"No one ever told me I couldn't do it," she said.

Davis, on the other hand, is hobbling. Just a few days earlier, she had broken her big toe, ironically enough, while vaulting a step to answer the phone. The injury was serious enough that she would require surgery later in the summer. She won't run again until late September.

"I look at it as a good thing," said Davis, whose constant smile and ebullient personality contrasts with the more shy and reticent Joyce. "I really needed to take a break. But it's really hard for me to stop doing anything. It's a perfect punishment for someone like me."

Despite her third straight state title in the 100 hurdles and second straight Miss Michigan Track and Field title, Davis has not exactly had a banner year. A late spring meant she didn't set foot on Pioneer's outdoor track until April. Her winning time in the 100 was only three-hundredths of a second faster than her 2002 state meet record. And she couldn't win any other event, placing second in the 300 hurdles and 100 dash.

Traveling to June's junior national track and field championships in California, where she finished third in 2002, Davis had to have her spikes shipped to her after she forgot to pack them. Though she got off to a good start, Davis faltered mid-race and crossed the line in a disappointing seventh place.

"I wasn't used to someone being next to me," said Davis, who failed to make any of the U.S. teams with her finish, including the one that will compete in the Junior Pan-Am Games in Barbados. "I didn't exactly choke, but I panicked."

The future for Joyce
Appearances can be deceiving.

Based on this past year, Joyce would seem headed to the top of her sport.
For Davis, however, the path would seem less clear.

Not quite.

Certainly, the swimmer already listed by U.S. Swimming as a "Superstar of Tomorrow" is on track for the big time.

"There's a real opportunity for young blood to break through," said Phillip Whitten, editor in chief of Swimming World. "And she looks to be the most consistent of the young kids."

Denny Hill, Pioneer's swim coach, expects that consistency to continue. He said Joyce's big year has been a result of a lot of hard work and training, something short-distance swimmers are not known for. Among other things, Joyce swam in every possible event last fall, garnering All-America honors in all of them.

"It's one thing to have talent," Hill said. "But you've got to also have the work ethic."

Georgia assistant coach Harvey Humphries, who recruited Joyce, is also impressed by her mental toughness. He remembers watching her in action at her first international competition in Rome last summer.

"She was extremely mature. She was extremely relaxed," he said. "She was everything you would have thought a world-class athlete should be for the first time she left home." As for Joyce, she believes the best is yet to come.

"I'm not even close to my peak - I hope," she said.

The future for
Davis

 
Virginia Powell and Ryan Wilson.

Those are two names that Davis will keep in mind as she heads for sunny California.

Wilson is an Ohio native who, running in year-round conditions for the first time, just capped his USC career by capturing the NCAA 110-meter hurdle title. In 2002, Powell finished in sixth place in the 100 hurdles at the U.S. junior nationals, 0.13 seconds behind Davis. This past spring, the USC freshman placed second in the Pac-10 championships and was named the conference's freshman of the year.

Those are the kind of leaps Davis wants to make as a Trojan and why she's headed so far away from home.

"It's going to be a hard adjustment," she said. "It's going to be a challenge."

But the kind of challenge both Davis and her longtime coach, Bryan Westfield, said she needs. Instead of being the center of attention, as she was at Pioneer, Davis will be able to develop slowly. Most eyes will be on the Trojans' other major recruit, Allyson Felix, who has already broken several of Marion Jones' sprint records and was the subject of a recent Sports Illustrated article.

"She can't jump from being the best in Michigan to being the best in the United States," Westfield said. "The best thing they can do is to teach her to be patient."

USC track coach Ron Allice said that is precisely his program's style.

Turning an athlete into a champion is a slow process.

"We will not overuse people - track is a developmental sport," he said. "We're fortunate to have her. We hope she can continue to be successful."

A possible reunion?
Joyce and Davis won't be drawing posters together any more. And that philosophy class they both took last spring? It's history.

But maybe, just maybe, they'll see each other again in the near future.

The 2004 Summer Olympics appear to be a possibility for Joyce. Davis is more of a long shot, based on both her youth and the relatively crowded field of top-flight hurdlers.

But Joyce still holds out hope that she will walk into Olympic Stadium in Athens next to a familiar face, her friend and former classmate.

"I'm planning on meeting up with her in 2004," she said.

Rob Hoffman can be reached at (734) 994-6814 or rhoffman@annarbornews.com