SANTA ANA — On a brief visit, it's easy to conclude that the only thing Todd and Amber Wines agree on is that they don't agree. When the black lane lines of a swimming pool end, so does their common ground.
Listening to this Santa Ana Valley swim duo is like eavesdropping on the sibling version of He said/She said.
"No it's not," Todd would say.
"Yes it is," Amber would counter on a range of subjects.
Even when the topic turns to swimming, the Wines can't resist a good-natured argument.
"We're always fighting," said Todd, as Amber's head bobbed in agreement. "I'll tell her to go hard on this set and she just tells me to shut up."
Said first-year Santa Ana Valley Coach Derek Piester: "It's your typical brother-sister relationship."
But the bickering doesn't mask the fact that Amber listens to Todd when other voices are far away, and that Todd is the eagerly protective older brother.
"Todd is Amber's hero, but he's also the thorn in her side," their mother, Cheryl Wines, said with a laugh.
Los Caballeros Swim Team Coach Robin Willia has coached the pair the last four years and sees the Wines interact daily.
"They may talk back to each other, but they're very close," she said. "They push each other; they're very supportive of each other."
Amber leaves today for Senior Nationals in Nashville, Tenn., where she will compete in 100-yard breaststroke Saturday, but her biggest support system will stay behind.
Amber qualified for this meet by finishing second, with a personal record of 1:04.52, last weekend in Long Beach at her first Junior National meet.
In his third appearance at a Junior National meet, Todd competed in three events, bettered his personal records, placed third in the 100-yard freestyle and fourth in the 50 free, but missed qualifying for Nashville by fractions of a second.
Amber, a freshman at Santa Ana Valley, told her mother it didn't feel right that she had qualified and Todd, a senior, didn't.
"She said it should have been him that went, not her," Cheryl said. "But Todd was really happy for her."
Entering Junior Nationals as the 23rd seed, Amber's performance came as a shock to everyone.
"She swam a 1:05.17 (at preliminaries) to qualify and that blew everyone's minds," Cheryl said. "People think things have come together pretty fast for her, but she's been working on this for a while now."
Until six months ago, the Wines' training styles were at opposite ends of the spectrum. Todd played the workhorse to Amber's social butterfly.
"They're probably the hardest workers on the team," Willia said. "Todd's been that way since Day 1. He's definitely self motivated. Amber was more involved for the social aspect. I always knew she had natural talent, but she never used her whole strength. She hadn't applied herself."
In September, Amber approached Willia and wanted to make a commitment to train hard in the 100 breaststroke.
"Since then, she's done phenomenal things, and she's beginning to develop her other strokes," Willia said. "Her potential has barely been tapped. I see her train every day and it doesn't show up in races. It's like she doesn't want to hurt too bad. Sometimes she lets her brain take over."
Conversely, Todd will do anything that's asked of him in a workout, all in the name of improvement. But what hurts Todd is his lack of racing at an elite level. With two years less experience, Amber has entered more meets than her brother.
"He enters as few (races) as possible," Willia said. A lot of (winning) has to do with knowing how to race, and part of it is racing at a high level. He just needs more experience."
Willia said Todd will be successful in a major college program because he hasn't been fully tested yet.
"I'm the first to admit my program is low-key," Willia said. "Todd never's worked at a super-high intensity level. He will excel at it when he comes to that. He's not afraid of hard work. His potential is untapped in that sense."
While there is still time to impress college coaches--he has discussed partial scholarships with a few schools--Todd's running out of time. That makes the next month's Southern Section meet--Todd took a third in the 50 free in 1992--and long course senior nationals this summer important meets.
"I really think he has national ability with his work ethic," Willia said. "There are a lot of good college programs out there."
Meanwhile, the Wines are the most high-profile swimmers in a high school program that has always been weak. In the Century League, the boys' and girls' teams both are 0-1 after they finished near the bottom last year.
But they like swimming for Santa Ana Valley and admire the aplomb of their teammates.
"I like the school and everything," Todd said. "I have a lot of respect for the swimmers here, who aren't very good. It takes a lot of courage to get in and race if you're not winning all the time."
Neither minds that their high school team is a virtual unknown compared to the more high-profile schools.
"If you get good times and you're fast, what difference does it make?" Todd said.
Piester said the Wines' presence, where they are the only club swimmers, has made a difference on team spirit.
"It brings the level of training up," he said. "Everyone trains a little harder because (Todd and Amber) are in the water. It brings the morale up."
Todd and Amber are the end of the Wines' Family Swimmers lineage. Brothers Jerry, Jeff and Troy all swam at Santa Ana Valley and Cheryl swam in high school in Glendale.
Amber has been tracking the school's 100 breaststroke record for years, and technically broke the record when she was 11 but didn't officially get the mark until this season.
Todd has broken every record Jeff set at the school, and holds seven of the eight school records. Only the 100 breaststroke mark remains for him to break.
"Todd took care of most of Jeff's records real fast," Cheryl said. "We have a real competitive family. We don't like to get beat."
On that, they all agree.