Officially speaking, the huge age-group championship meet that starts Thursday at Fairland Aquatic Center gives those who are 14-and-under a chance to experience a real racing environment in a 50-meter pool.
Unofficially, the meet will provide the region’s two most prominent swim clubs with a convenient platform on which to slug it out, swimmer by swimmer, for bragging rights and local pride.
Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club members hold the top seed in 49 of the 100 events that will be contested through the weekend at the Potomac Valley Long-Course Age-Group Championships. Curl-Burke Swim Club members, meantime, hold the best qualifying time in 32 events. That leaves a mere 19 events with top seeds from the other 23 participating clubs. All told, approximately 890 swimmers will compete during the four-day meet.
“Curl-Burke and Rockville-Montgomery are always the top two,” said Phillip Hu, 14, a standout in the Curl-Burke program. “Most of the time, [Rockville-Montgomery] is the team to beat … In the pool, it’s a rivalry. Outside the pool, it’s friends.”
This weekend’s meet will pit the two local powerhouses in nearly every event. One club or the other is the top seed in each of the more than 20 relays, and in several cases, the clubs’ B and C relay teams carry the next highest seeds. In the girls 13-14 200-meter freestyle, Rockville-Montgomery and Curl-Burke swimmers occupy the top nine seeds. In the boys 13-14 100 fly, they claim the top seven.
“We do a fair amount of watching what they’re doing, and they probably do a fair amount of watching what we’re doing,” said Scott Vekeman, a coach at Rockville-Montgomery. “It’s pretty healthy competition … We both have such huge age-group programs.”
Rockville Montgomery and Curl Burke are both home to more than 1,500 members spread over various locations in Maryland, Virginia and the District. Other local clubs simply cannot compete with such numbers. They are also the top-ranked club teams in the nation.
In USA Swimming’s virtual club championships for 2008-2009, Rockville-Montgomery earned the highest point score among 2,511 club teams nationwide. Curl-Burke finished second.
But despite the similarity in their performance, the two are very different. Rockville-Montgomery is a public club that operates with city and county facilities and employees. Curl-Burke, on the other hand, is privately owned.
“You have two clubs that are dramatically different in organization that have two similarly successful products,” said Pete Morgan, a longtime Curl-Burke coach.
Said Vekeman: “We tend to be stronger in the younger group, because we have more bodies. Our mission initially was to be a local program, and that really has been what we are.”
Swimmers to watch this weekend include – in no particular order – from Rockville-Montgomery: Andrew Gibson, 12; Devin Truong, 10; Harrison Gu, 12; Jack Conger, 14; Jessica Chen, 12; Carsten Vissering, 12; Dylan Gribble, 10. From Curl-Burke, Annika Kollevoll, 12; Matty Ferguson, 13; Janet Hu, 13; Phillip Hu, 14; Andrew Seliskar, 12; Katie Ledecky, 12. From other clubs: Isabella Rongione, 9, The Fish; Marcela Chavez, 10, Flying Gull Aquatic Club; Christian Ginieczki, 10, Herndon Aquatic Club.
“Rockville-Montgomery looks like they might be on top” this weekend, Hu said. “Curl-Burke is going to do its best to beat them.”