As their coach, Mike Richmond, would say, there’s too much “chlorine in the blood” for athletes like Case and Larsen.
The two teens, members of the Sparks Piranhas swim team, will compete in this weekend’s 2008 Western Zone Sectional Champion-ships at California State University, Bakersfield, that runs from Thursday through Saturday. The event, hosted by the Bakersfield Swim Club and US Swimming, will bring in about 950 swimmers from about 100 different clubs from the western United States, Canada, Mexico and Jamaica.
“It’s a big honor to make it to this place,” said Piranhas coach Richmond, who is also the coach of the girls’ swim team at the University of Nevada, Reno. “US Swimming sets up six different stepping stones. These girls are on their fourth stepping stone. It’s kind of testing how hard they work and shows their commitment and dedication.”
The girls work to improve their times in all four strokes, but both feel the freestyle is their strongest. Larsen said she typically swims the butterfly in an individual medley relay, the race that incorporates all four swimming strokes — butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.
Case and Larsen had to earn qualifying times to participate in their long-course – or laps measured in meters as opposed to yards – events, which include the 200, 100 and 50 freestyle. For women, qualifying times were 2:14.89 for 200; 1:02.59 for 100; and :29.99 for 50. The swimmers said they both have times that match or are just less than those times.
Larsen, 18, first joined a swim team six years ago while Case, 16, has been swimming since she was 11.
Larsen received an athletic scholarship to swim with the UNR team and will continue her sport under Richmond’s direction.
“He’s the best coach,” she said. “I wouldn’t be swimming without Mike.”
She said Richmond looks for women who will be serious about their athletics and avoid the typical “college life.”
“I get another four years with Chelsey,” Richmond said. “I’m just ecstatic.”
Richmond said it takes someone truly dedicated to their athletics to be a part of a UNR sports program like swimming.
“We recruit a real special kind of person,” he said. “It’s not just all about talent. They have to live a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle and be focused on their academics. It’s a great group of kids. We look for that one particular person that’s going to try to lead a good life.”
Larsen said she signed a contract promising to focus only on her sport and academics.
“I think they’re well prepared for it,” Richmond said.
Case, who enters her junior year at Reed High School in the fall, said she would consider going onto collegiate swimming when she graduates from high school.
“It would be cool to swim with Mike,” Case said.
Case said the races and faces on the team pull her into the sport most.
“I just love the competition and the people around me on the team; we’re a huge family,” she said.
Larsen said being an athlete helps her to be a better student but it also means giving up some things she could be enjoying as a young person.
“Swimming helps me stay more concentrated on my school work because I learn to be dedicated and not give up on things in swimming, so it helps me in school because I have those attributes I learn here,” she said. “It’s hard with my social life because all your friends want to hang out and you have to say, ‘Sorry, I can’t, I have to practice.’ ”
If the girls succeed at the sectional championship, they’ll progress to nationals and if they qualify after that, they would go on to Olympic trials for the 2012 games.