Campbell McKean of Caldera, the reigning 5A champion in the 200 IM and 100 backstroke, committed to USC in October.
Campbell McKean of Caldera, the reigning 5A champion in the 200 IM and 100 backstroke, committed to USC in October.

For versatile 6-foot-4 Caldera junior swimmer Campbell McKean, the potential to dominate was always there.

He offered glimpses of it early last year, when he won the 200-yard individual medley and 100 backstroke in the 5A championships and followed up one month later with a breakout performance at Speedo Sectionals, where he won the 200 IM.

But even he couldn't have predicted his dramatic improvement through the end of the year.

“I really did surprise myself,” said McKean, who committed to USC in late October. “Just getting stronger overall as a swimmer, but also just being a smarter swimmer. The mental aspect of knowing that I can go fast.”

In a span of nine months, McKean quickly moved into rare territory. His winning time in the 200 IM at the 5A meet was 1:52.44. In December, at the Speedo Winter Junior Championship West meet in Illinois, he clocked a stunning 1:44.23, an Oregon state record. He is in position to shatter the OSAA meet record of 1:46.91, set by Jesuit's Diego Nosack last year.

“Going into Juniors, I definitely knew I was going to go relatively faster than my times before,” he said. “But I did not expect to go as fast as I did at the end of Junior Nationals.”

Megan Oesting, his coach at Bend Swim Club, sees McKean surging with confidence.

“He might not beat the best in the world, but he knows he belongs there,” Oesting said. “That's a big change from a year ago. He's come a long way, and he's still going. He's an impressive kid. He's so swimming smart, he's so physically smart. He's just a monster. USC is salivating.”

McKean carried the momentum from Sectionals, where he placed in the top six in six events, through July's Junior Nationals, where he took seventh in the 100-meter butterfly. In October, his training got a boost in the National Select Camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

“I think he realized that he's able to compete with just about anybody,” Oesting said. “I think he came out of that camp a lot more confident.”

McKean showed his racing ability at the Junior National meet in December when he squared off with Texas club teammates Maximus Williamson and Cooper Lucas, who SwimSwam rates as the No. 2 junior and senior recruits in the nation, respectively. McKean battled and finished third to Williamson (1:41.18) and Lucas (1:43.88).

“It was scary because I knew how fast they both were going into the meet, and going into finals,” McKean said. “Obviously I was going to try to win, but it's definitely a mental thing. It was scary, but it was fun in the same moment.”

McKean went from not qualifying for Junior Nationals West in 2022 to being a legitimate contender in 2023.

“He was in the boxing ring with them,” Oesting said. “He duked it out with two of the best IMers in the world. He was nowhere near Cooper last year.”

McKean was neck-and-neck with Lucas before being out-touched at the finish.

“It gives me a boost to work on my endurance in freestyle,” McKean said.

McKean was on fire at Junior Nationals West, also placing in the 400 IM (second-3:46.55), 200 butterfly (fifth-1:46.75) and 100 breaststroke (fifth-53.87) with personal-best times. In a time trial for the 200-meter IM, he swam a new best of 2:03.07 to qualify for the Olympic Trials in June.

What began as a big jump in the butterfly in mid-2022 spread to the backstroke, breaststroke and now freestyle for McKean.

“His freestyle was the last to come, and now that's coming,” Oesting said. “He's just collecting strokes like little infinity stones and putting them together for his IM. He's able to do almost everything he wants to do. He's putting it all together.”

Said McKean: “My freestyle is definitely my weakest link. I'm still working on that every day. Once I get my freestyle dialed in, I think all my other strokes will connect a lot easier.”

At USC, McKean will be part of an Oregon contingent that includes Bend Swim Club teammate Diggory Dillingham, the 6A champion in the 50 and 100 freestyle for Mountain View in 2022, and Parkrose senior Thomas Olsen, the 5A meet record-holder in the 200 and 500 freestyle.

Dillingham, who did not compete for Mountain View as a senior last season, is taking a gap year to train in Bend for the Olympic Trials before heading to USC in the fall. Dillingham, Oesting's son, moved to Bend in 2021 and has become good friends with McKean.

“They're super excited to be at USC together,” Oesting said. “Campbell and Diggory are pretty tight.”

McKean said that training with Dillingham, a member of the USA National Junior Team, has challenged him.

“I definitely looked up to him,” McKean said. “I want to get there, and I'm still working toward that. So it definitely pushed me to see what I'm able to do in the future, and hopefully be on that team with him.”

Oesting said that Dillingham helped “break the ceiling” for swimmers such as McKean.

“They're like, 'Wait a second, this is my friend, and he's not superhuman. I can do this,'” Oesting said.

McKean has become so well-rounded that Oesting said she believes he would win any 100 stroke that he chooses in the 5A meet. McKean said he will go for a repeat in the 200 IM but will forgo a chance to defend his title in the 100 backstroke, instead opting for the 100 breaststroke. His PR in the 100 breaststroke (53.87) is faster than the OSAA meet record of 55.40 (Brian Frazier, Oregon City, 2016).

He is shooting to rewrite the record book at state.

“Hopefully, I can go maybe a second faster than I did in December," he said, referring to the 200 IM.