Beginning late Thursday afternoon, nearly 1,600 Potomac Valley swimmers will converge on the George Mason University Aquatic and Fitness Center for the biggest local meet of the winter season, the Tom Dolan Invitational. Each one of them will be competing with an individual goal in mind.
For Samuel Rairden, a 18-year-old swimmer who is seeded first in three of his events, it’s to hit NCAA meet cuts in three of the six events in which he will compete.
The meet will be contested through Sunday, with 33 Potomac Valley Swimming clubs participating. According to assistant meet director Karen Pawlowicz, 1,563 total athletes are entered in the meet for a total of 6,941 total entries as of Tuesday afternoon. The Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club and Curl-Burke Swim Club have each entered more than 300 athletes. Swimmers need to meet specific time requirements for event eligibility. Each is limited to entering a maximum seven events, with no more than three on a single day.
Rairden, who swims for Poseidon Swimming, identified the three events he has targeted for this weekend as the 100 butterfly, 200 backstroke and the 200 freestyle. And while he is seeded first in the butterfly and backstroke, he is the fifth seed in the 200 freestyle event.
According to Poseidon Swimming head coach Ted Sallade, Rairden’s preparation for the Tom Dolan Invitational Meet spans well beyond the pool.
“This year, he’s picked up lifting weights,” Sallade said. “He’s gotten quite a bit stronger. It will be interesting to see the benefits of the strength training.”
Rairden said he lifts three days a week — Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday — and it has helped with his explosiveness and catch in the water.
Rairden will be competing among several other notable local swimmers.
Former Olympian Kate Ziegler, the 21-year-old Olympic swimmer and former world champion for The FISH, is entered in five events. She is seeded first in three events and second in the girls open 50 freestyle — definitely not a specialty for the distance star. Ziegler, who competed in the Minnesota Grand Prix in mid-November after bowing out of the U.S. world-championship trials with the flu, will compete with top-seed Katherine Bassett (NOVA of Virginia Aquatics, Inc) and 15-year-old Gabrielle Bishop (Unique Swimming) for the win in the 50 freestyle. The time difference between the first and third seed times is 0.15 seconds.
Janet Hu, 13, is entered in six events and seeded first in four. In the girls 13-14 100 butterfly, Hu will compete alongside her Curl-Burke teammate, Hellen Moffitt, who is seeded second. In the 200 backstroke, Hu is the only swimmer with a seed time of under two minutes. Kelsey Moore of the New Wave Swim Team is seeded second with a 2:07.44.
Quest Swimming’s Cameron Johnston is also hoping for wins in multiple events. He is a top ten seed in six of seven events and the top seed in four events. The 14-year-old will compete in the 200 freestyle, where he is seeded fourth and less than two seconds off the top seed, John Denning (Tidewater Aquatic Club).
Jack Conger, a 15-year-old swimmer for the Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club, is entered in seven events and top-five seeded in three out of those seven. Conger has an outside chance to win the 200 Yard IM—despite being seeded fifth, he is less than a second off the top seed, 21-year-old Ryan David.
“Everyone always puts up fast swimmers, and they should be fun to race against,” Conger said.
All distance events will be held Thursday. The following three days, open preliminary events will be held in the mornings starting at 8:45 a.m. Afternoon preliminaries and 10-and-under finals will be held in the afternoons, beginning at 2 p.m. All other final sessions will start at 6:05 p.m.
Parking in Lot C on the George Mason campus will be closed throughout the event. Lot A will be open for public parking. While swimmer drop-off is not allowed in front of the aquatic center, it will be provided in Lot C. Swimmers, coaches and volunteers will be able to enter through the side entrance. All parents and spectators must enter through the main entrance.