After rewriting the national age group record books during the first several days of competition, it was a calm final night at the 2012 Tom Dolan Invitational. Plenty of swimmers gave chase to national age group records, including local standouts Jack Conger and Katie Ledecky, but all fell short in the end, fatigue setting in after four days of racing.
RMSC’s Conger came the closest, missing the NAG record in the 17-18 boys’ 200-yard backstroke by six-tenths of a second, finishing in 1 minute, 38.75 seconds. It was a new personal best for the University of Texas-bound 17-year-old, but wasn’t enough to reclaim the record set last week at Winter Nationals by Conger’s age group rival, Ryan Murphy.
“I was a little upset that I didn’t take back my record from Ryan,” said Conger after his race. “But I have to take into consideration that I missed three weeks of training [due to mono], which whether I wanted to believe or not hurts no matter who you are.”
Conger claimed the NAG record in the 100 backstroke the previous night, which was set by Murphy a month ago at the Florida High School State Championship meet, but didn’t have the strength to carry him to his third NAG record of the weekend.
“It was definitely a confidence booster,” said Conger. “It was the fastest back-half fifty of anyone this season. But my third fifty was again my slowest, which is something I have really been trying to work on.”
“We kind of took this as a decent meet, but not a spectacular meet,” said Conger’s RMSC coach Sue Chen, who has worked with Cong for the past four years. “Given everything he’s been through this fall with being ill, recruiting, and the stress of school we thought he’d be about 80%. We knew he had a lot of speed, but he’s lost a few pounds this fall which put a little damper on his performance in the 200s.
“It’s not rocket science with him. It’s just a lot of hard work put in and a lot of results coming out.”
Besides the two backstroke events, Conger impressed every time he hit the water. He was 43.39 in his lead off leg of the 400 freestyle relay on Sunday, just 1.05 seconds off the NAG record in the 100 freestyle. He was even closer on Friday night, leading off the 800 freestyle relay with a 1:34.15 split in the 200 free, coming within a second of that record. He’s close in the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly as well, giving him a legitimate shot at six national age group records he could snag in his final high school year.
“He’d probably be close in the 200 fly too, but the 200 backstroke is on the same day and he wants that event to be his,” added Chen with a smile.
NCAP’s Katie Ledecky flirted with her own NAG record in the 15-16 girls’ 1,000 freestyle. Ledecky set the mark a week earlier during the 1,650 freestyle at Winter Nationals in which she also set the record. Her time of 9:25.90 on Sunday wasn’t fast enough to reset the record, but it brought the crowd to its feet and spurred on her 14-year-old teammate Megan Byrnes to finish in a personal best time of 9:49.72, who finished in second.
“It was a great last two weeks of racing,” said Ledecky after swimming the anchor leg of NCAP’s winning 400 freestyle relay. “I was able to get in a lot of swims and see where I was at in my training. I exceeded my expectations for where I was in season, which was great.”
Ledecky swam a full program on the final day of competition, competing in the 200 IM and 200 butterfly, along with the 1,000 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay — gaining valuable experience in events she didn’t focus on last season during her Olympics push. She even got experience in not finishing first, something the high school sophomore hasn’t experienced much of in the last year.
She was the runner-up in both the 200 IM and 200 butterfly. Delaware’s Kaitlyn Jones won the 200 IM in 1:58.10 to Ledecky’s 2:00.88 and Janet Hu won the 200 butterfly in 1:55.27 to Ledecky’s 1:58.22.
“It was fun. I love the 200 fly,” said Ledecky about competing in her non-core events. “Janet and I knew she was going to blow right by me at the end, but I figured if I could stay with her I could break the two minute barrier and I did, which was great.”
Hu had her own brush with another national record, finishing 1.01 seconds off the 15-16 year-old age group record in the 100 freestyle in a time of 48.81. Hu already holds the record in the 50 freestyle, set at Winter Nationals. This meet was her last chance to set any records in the 15-16 age group having turned 17 the day after the start of the meet.
CBST’s Allie Szekely — who crushed the 13-14 girls’ 200 breaststroke NAG record earlier this weekend — also finished her meet strong, walking away with three individual wins on the final night of competition. She was just over a second off the 13-14 girls’ NAG record in the 200 backstroke with a time of 1:57.19. Posted a 51.73 in the 100 freestyle and showed off her versatility by winning the 200 IM in 1:59.14, closing in on Missy Franklin’s age group record of 1:57.70.
Upper Dublin Aquatics Club swimmer Michael Jensen, 14, came within half a second of the 13-14 boys’ NAG record in the 100 freestyle with a time of 45.67. That time would have finished fifth in the boys’ open event, which was won by the 29-year-old former Auburn swimmer Joe Pascale in 44.33. Jensen also topped the 13-14 boys’ 200 butterfly in 1:53.63 [edited per comment].
DST’s Jones — winner in the 200 IM — was too much for the competition in the girls’ open 200 backstroke, winning in a time of 1:53.46. Her teammate David Crossland touched first in the boys’ 13-14 200 back with a time of 1:55.91.
NCAP’s Rachel Danegger used strong back half to win the 11-12 girls’ 100 IM in 1:02.89.
Reece Whitley — the 6’3″ 12-year-old who already set national age group records in the 100 and 200 breaststroke — won the boys’ event in 56.89, pulling away from the field in the final fifty to win by 1.5 seconds over RMSC’s John Clado [edited per comment]. Whitley also won the 200 freestyle in a blazing 1:48.67, beating RMSC’s Sanjay Wijesekera, who finished in 1:49.08. Wijesekera won the 11-12 boys’ 100 butterfly in 57.33 for his sixth win of the meet.
NCAP’s Cassidy Bayer broke the 2-minute barrier in the 13-14 girls’ 200 butterfly, winning in 1:59.03. That’s 2.5 seconds off Mary Meagher’s 1979 national age group record, which Bayer will have almost two full years to try and get having just turned 13 this past summer.
Tidewater Aquatics’ John Denning, 17, won the boys’ open 200 fly in 1:48.67.
North Carolina Aquatic Club’s Madison Homovich, 12, won the 11-12 girls’ 200 freestyle in 1:54.00.
AGUA’s Michael Domagala, 17, won the boys’ open 200 IM in 1:47.96.