For area club swimmers, there are few bigger stages than Junior Nationals. Hosted by Swim Orlando at the Orlando YMCA Aquatic and Family Center, the event showcased many of the top college-bound swimmers from around the country.
In a testament to the hotbed of swimming talent that is the greater Washington region, Curl-Burke Swim Club, a member of Potomac Valley Swimming, brought home the boys’ title as well as the combined team crown.
The boys of Curl-Burke made their presence known from the get-go. On the very first day of competition, the 200 medley relay team of Philip Hu, Chuck Katis, James Crabb, and Cyrus Hashemi took top honors and set a new age-group record for short course yards (1:30.70).
And that would just be the beginning of a long and successful week of competition for area swimmers.
“I’m actually going to have to get a piece of paper to count [my races],” said Katis, recalling the grueling week.
Altogether, the Harvard commit reeled off 14 swims (if he remembers correctly) over the course of the five-day meet. In Thursday’s 50 breaststroke finals, Katis posted a time of 25.23 for a second-place finish, but he was just as pleased about reaching two other personal milestones at the meet.
“In the 200 breaststroke I was able to break the two-minute barrier,” Katis said. “And, similarly, in the 200 IM I broke the one-fifty barrier.”
For the Curl-Burke girls, Janet Hu was a vital component in the team’s top-five finish. Coming off a strong freshman year at Oakton, Hu recorded a sixth-place finish in the 200 backstroke (1:57.97), tied for second in the 50 butterfly (24.40), and notched fifth place in both the 100 butterfly (54.54) and the 50 backstroke (25.77).
Oakton senior teammate Kaitlin Pawlowicz got into the action with a third-place performance in the 400 IM (4:14.63).
But perhaps most impressive was the performance of Katie Ledecky in the mile swim. Her time of 16:07.33, if swum in this year’s Women’s NCAA Championships, would have placed 15th — Ledecky was just 13 years old at the start of the meet (she turned 14 during the course of the week). Ledecky took first place in the event by seven seconds and contributed 20 points to the Curl-Burke scoring effort.
“She’s just a real great swimmer, she works real hard. Her coach over in Maryland, Yuri Suguiyama, prepared her terrifically,” Curl-Burke coach Pete Morgan said. “Particularly after the finals of the 500 free, she just seemed to be in a great zone and got tougher with each race.”
Curl-Burke wasn’t the only area team to show well at Junior Nationals.
Competing against a group predominantly made up of college-bound athletes would be intimidating for most 16-year-olds, but Rockville Montgomery’s James Powell proved his talent over the course of the week. On Tuesday, Powell finished fifth in the timed finals of the 1,000 freestyle (9:07.32), earning a trip to the 2011 Senior Nationals in the process. He returned on Saturday for a shot at the title in the mile swim. After a fast first 300 yards, Powell settled in to a steady, low-28 second pace for the remainder of the race, finishing in third place with a time of 15:18.70.
Another young gun also helped the Rockville Montgomery cause. Good Counsel sophomore Jack Conger dominated all challengers in the 200 backstroke finals (1:43.44), winning the event by more than two seconds. His margin of victory was smaller in the 100 backstroke (0.42 seconds) but impressive nonetheless, as he finished in a time of 48.40. Conger’s quest for another gold medal was interrupted by Tripp Cooper of The Woodlands Swim Club (Texas) who edged him by .06 seconds in the 50 butterfly.
Sarah Haase also contributed in important ways for Rockville Montgomery. The 16-year-old Good Counsel junior placed second in Wednesday’s 100 breaststroke (1:01.83) and in Thursday’s 50 breaststroke finals (27.95). Haase would make a valiant effort for her third silver of the meet on Friday in the 200 breaststroke (2:12.08), but finished third.
C.J. Fiala, a member of Westfield’s state championship team, competed for the Fairfax-based Machine Aquatics. His performance in the 100 breaststroke (56.42) was good for seventh place among a talented field. In the 50 breaststroke, he and teammate Ricky Munch placed fourth (25.50) and sixth (26.09), respectively.
Junior and Senior Nationals will be held again this upcoming summer in consecutive weekends at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.