Marta Ciesla has always had a soft spot in her heart for California.
The Pine Crest All-American and three-time state high school champion was thrust into the national spotlight in California when she made her national debut.
Her older brother, Jakub, is a member of the men’s volleyball team at Cal State Northridge and just 20 minutes down the road from University of Southern California.
And, of all the college visits, USC head coach Dave Salo, his staff and women’s team just felt like the right fit.
On Tuesday night, one of the nation’s top sprinters made it official and verbally committed to USC. She is expected to make an immediate impact as a freshman in both the relays and sprint events.
“Every time I go to California, I get this feeling of happiness,” Ciesla said after Wednesday’s afternoon workout at Pine Crest. “It’s like home and I am so happy there. I love Coach Salo’s style of training for sprinters. I love his approach to coaching. It’s a Division-I school and it caters to the athlete around the clock. I am really looking forward to swimming in college. I know it will push me to get better and swim faster times.”
Ciesla and her Pine Crest teammates are on track to unseat defending champion Jacksonville Bolles and win their first state 1A title in more than 20 years.
“It’s definitely a weight off my shoulders knowing where I am going to college,” Ciesla said. “I haven’t been able to focus on anything else I have been so excited. Now I can get back into it.”
Ciesla was one of the most sought after high school swimmers by college coaches. In addition to USC, she visited Georgia, Texas and Tennessee.
The last Pine Crest swimmer to sign with USC was prep All-American and Austrian national record holder Gotti Eisenberger, a sprint freestyler and now a senior.
“Marta enjoyed all her visits and took her time,” said Pine Crest coach Jay Fitzgerald. “She had very good offers. She has always had a warm spot in her heart for California. USC is outdoors and she swims outdoors in Florida.”
Ciesla, 17, is a two-time defending state champion in the 100-meter freestyle and one-time defending state champion in the 50-meter freestyle.
In August 2015, she won the 50-meter freestyle at the 2015 Speedo Junior Nationals, breaking two-time Olympian Missy Franklin’s championship record. She also won the 50-yard freestyle at the Eastern Junior Nationals in December.
The 2016 U.S. Olympic trials qualifier won a silver medal at the FINA World Cup and this past summer another silver at the Pan Pacific Championships as a member of the U.S. national junior team.
Last year the team captain made the ultimate sacrifice and gave up a chance at swimming in the region and state high school meets her junior year to represent her country at the FINA World Cup.
“I am sure she will do extremely well, I expect a very bright future for her,” Fitzgerald said. “She is a talented athlete and Dave is an innovative, aggressive and talented coach. He has produced some great swimmers who have had some great performances.”
For Fitzgerald, Ciesla’s final season is bittersweet.
“You never want to lose a good athlete, but it’s part of the growth and transition,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not our job to stand in their way or hold them back. You want to make them successful as they can be and put them in a position to continue their growth.”