This year’s NCSA Junior National Swimming Championship meet got off to a quick start for PVS swimmers Tuesday night at the Orlando YMCA Aquatic Center when Katie Ledecky and Garrett Powell won the opening two events.
Curl-Burke swimmer Ledecky led the way, breaking two 15-16 National Age Group records during the girls’ 1,650-yard freestyle. RMSC’s Powell won the boys’ 1,000 freestyle. To conclude the first night of competition, both local squads placed relay teams in the top three during the girls’ and boys’ 200 medley relays.
Starting today, the tough part of the meet begins for swimmers with morning prelims swam in short-course yards with long-course finals taking place less than six hours after prelims conclude. The added pressure of making finals makes for an even more exciting night environment for swimmers who qualify for a second swim and a chance at dropping time to move up in the rankings.
Over the next four days of competition, here are RFTW’s four storylines to watch:
1. Last chance to qualify for Olympic Trials
Potomac Valley LSC will already be well represented at this year’s Olympic Trials, but there are still many swimmers on the edge that are eager to make what is arguably the fastest meet in the world, including the Olympic Games.
While some swimmers will travel to one of the remaining three Grand Prix meets scheduled over the next four month, for most, this meet is the last chance to swim against top-notch competition in the long-course format. But swimmers will only get that chance if they are able to qualify for one of the four finals heats, swam in the long-course format.
2. Local teams battling for national title
Although often an afterthought in the highly individualized swimming world, the team competition will be hard-fought between local powerhouses Curl-Burke — last year’s champion — and Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club, as well as 2010 winner NOVA Aquatic (Richmond) and an Aquajets Swim Team (Eden Prairie, Minn.) led by U.S. National Team member Rachel Bootsman.
Curl-Burke and RMSC bring their largest squads ever to this year’s meet, with approximately 90 and 60 swimmers each. Among those swimmers are superstars such as Ledecky and Powell — who have already proved they can win at this meet — as well as Jack Conger and Janet Hu.
Outside of the top stars, and more significant to the team competition, are the number of entries each team boasts in the top 20. Entering the meet, Curl-Burke has 50 individual entries in the top 20, as well as 14 relays in the top five, while RMSC has over 30 individual entries in the top 20, plus 12 relays in the top five.
3. Brutal schedules for the biggest stars of tomorrow
Jack Conger (RMSC) and Janet Hu (Curl-Burke) are two of the best all-around age group swimmers in the country. Each has multiple Olympic Trials cuts and will probably add to their current total this week at Juniors. Conger is currently entered in 11 individual events — including eight as the top seed — and can swim on all five of RMSC’s relay teams. Hu has nine events on her schedule, all seeded in the top five, and will certainly contribute in several of Curl-Burke’s relays.
Do not expect either swimmer to swim every event they are entered in, but the question still remains — can this pair of 17- and 16-year-olds hold up against these Phelpsian schedules that few swimmers undertake? Hu will face competition in nearly every event from Aquajets’ Bootsma, but it is conceivable that Conger could win any of the 11 individual events he swims due to his unique combination of top-end speed, endurance, and untouchable underwaters — not to mention a chance at grabbing a few NAG records on the way.
4. How low will Katie Ledecky go?
While Conger and Hu’s Olympic Trials goals are geared towards making it to an elusive finals heat, reserved for the top eight swimmers in the country, 15-year-old Katie Ledecky has her sights on an even bigger goal — making the U.S. Olympic Team.
She has already taken down two NAG records held by former Olympian Kate Ziegler, but can she inch towards taking down Janet Evans‘ untouchable records of 4:05.45 in the 400-meter freestyle and 8:17.12 in the 800-meter freestyle.
Hitting times like those would go a long way towards securing herself a spot on the 2012 London squad. We might not see it this week in Orlando, but after the drops she has been able to make over the last six months, I do not think anyone would rule it out at Trials in June/July.
Ledecky’s current best in the events are 4:09.30 and 8:30.14, respectively, the latter ranking her fourth in the world in 2012. She will also be in the mix for the top spot in the 200 freestyle event where she is currently seeded third.