Nine Lawrence Township teenagers who qualified to compete against the best swimmers in the nation were a bit starstruck when they saw the 17 U.S. Olympians who were among their competitors at the USA Swimming Toyota Southern California Grand Prix.
Even though the stars were shining bright in Long Beach, Calif., members of the Lawrence Swim Team (LST) posted some very respectable times among this elite class of swimmers.
“Once we got past the awe of who we were swimming against and with, we settled down and swam well,” said LST Coach Chris Wheat.
The Grand Prix, which was held Jan. 13-15, marked the first time in recent years that anyone from LST has qualified to compete in a national meet of this caliber.
“It kind of shows where the program is heading,” said Wheat, who’s been coaching the 150-member club for the last four years.
Under his mentoring, LST has become a nationally recognized swim club, boasting several stand-out swimmers. Fourteen-year-old Christina Noens placed 24th out of 108 swimmers in the 100-yard backstroke, an event which was won by five-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin.
With a time of 59.02, Noens set a new school record and topped her personal best. She also broke the school record for the 200-yard backstroke with a time of 2:07.54.
The LST Men’s 400 Medley Relay Team posted the highest ranking with a 14th place finish that earned the team six points. Relay team members – Drew Avery, Daniel Kerns, Krisna MacDonald and Kyle Tiemann – are an even blend of talent from Lawrence North and Lawrence Central high schools.
Two other LST swimmers have yet to enter high school and have already beaten school records at LN and LC. Julie Ogden is an eighth-grader at Craig Middle School and should have no problem toppling the school record for the 100 Fly when she gets to LN next year.
MacKenzie Powell, an eighth-grader at Belzer Middle School, has already posted a time for the 100 breaststroke that beats the current LC record.
“You’ll probably hear a lot about her in the next four years,” Wheat said.
If fact, he expects Powell to break several LC swimming records, including the 100 Fly, a record set by his wife, Chrissy, in the late 1980s.
LST teammates Katharine Rinker and Lauren Wine also qualified and competed in several events at the California Grand Prix. Wheat said he was proud of all nine swimmers, who are gearing up for the next big event: a Grand Prix competition in Ann Arbor, Mich., in May.
“I think we’ll be a little more business,” said Wheat, noting that a lot of pictures and autographs were collected from the kids’ swimming idols during the California meet.
Noens’ mother, Tracy, dubbed her daughter “the LST paparazzi.” Christina took dozens of photos with her favorite swimming superstars, including Olympians Michael Phelps, Aaron Peirsol, Ian Crocker and Brendan Hansen. Kaitlin Sandeno was the only female Olympian Noens talked to, however. Being 14, she was naturally more interested in the boys!
Noen’s younger brother, Adam, collected autographs form his swimming heroes. But 10-year-old Adam almost didn’t get one from Phelps, who won eight medals in Athens, including six golds. Phelps hails from Baltimore, Md., so he didn’t appreciate the Colts jersey Adam was sporting after the Colts victory over the Baltimore Ravens. When Adam asked Phelps to sign his program, the Olympic champ said he couldn’t do it for a Colts fan. Adam started to walk away with his head hung low, when Phelps yelled out that he was only kidding.
The total experience was amazing for the LST swimmers. While some of them were a bit intimidated by the competition, Noens said the environment inspired her to perform her best. Now that she’s met her season goal of breaking the 1- minute mark in the 100 backstroke, Noens has set a new goal of qualifying for Junior Nationals. That would require shaving off an additional 1.3 seconds, she said.
She and her teammates practice for at least three hours a day, six days a week. High school students are in the pool before classes (at 5:30 a.m.) and then head back to the pool after school, practicing until 5:30 p.m.
“To be a swimmer, you have to be able to budget your time well,” Noens said.
With that kind of dedication to the sport, expect to see LST swimmers ranking among the top in the nation more often. We may just have some future Olympians living in our community.
Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps poses for a photo with LST teammates Lauren Wine, Katharine Rinker and Julie Ogden during a national swimming competition in Long Beach, Calif.
Lawrence North Freshman Christina Noens poses for a photo with famed Olympian Ian Crocker during a Grand Prix swimming event where both competed on a national level.
Lawrence North Freshman Christina Noens broke the 1-minute mark during the 100-yard backstroke event at the Southern California Grand Prix national competition, setting a new school record.
(photo provided by Lenny Noens)