Editorial coverage for U.S. Junior Nationals proudly sponsored by Q Swimwear!
By David Rieder
IRVINE, California, July 30. FOR the first time in 2014, USA Swimming decided to hold Junior Nationals before their showcase National Championships in Irvine. And after just one day of finals, the vibes around the meet have changed. When the young athletes throw down an impressive performance on a typical year at Juniors, they have to wait a full 12 months for the opportunity to prove themselves alongside the sport’s established names. This time, they have to wait seven days.
While we’ve seen no jaw-dropping performances like the show Missy Franklin put on back in 2009 or even something on the level of what Katie Ledecky or Andrew Seliskar did a year ago in the very same pool. But it won’t take much to put the country on notice headed into a meet just days away. That all began in the very first final of the meet when North Baltimore’s Easop Lee swam a 2:10.40 in the 200 fly, more than a second under her three week-old best time.
On the surface this looks like a fine swim for someone on the Junior National level but one unlikely to shake the national landscape too much but for two key notes. First off, Lee is 14 years old. She becomes the first ever winner at Junior Nationals born in the 21st century. And secondly, while her time doesn’t rank close to the top-20 in the world, it would have placed one one-hundredth of a second ahead of McLaughlin for third at last year’s World Championship Trials. The 200 fly has long been one of the weaker events domestically, and no one has won a medal at a World Championships or Olympics for the U.S. since Kim Vandenberg in 2007.
While Lee smoked the A-final – where Lauren Case and Isa Paez also put up solid 2:11s – Crown Point’s Hannah Kukurugya cut three seconds from her personal best to win the bonus final with s 2:10.64. That time would have merely placed her fifth in the final of World Championship Trials a year ago. And like Lee, she has youth on her side, as she will be beginning just her sophomore year of high school in Indiana in the fall.
By no means do I think Lee or Kukurugya will drop another second or two and force her way onto an Australia-bound jetliner next week. Still, she has reminded even the likes of Cammile Adams, the most consistent 200 flyer in America the past two years and a World Championship finalist in 2013, that no one’s footing is secure. But with three spots up for grabs in each event on the Pan Pacs team and even more qualifying for international action based on next week’s results, be sure to keep an eye on Juniors for breakout swims, especially for the weaker events on the docket.
For Future Reference
No meet records went down with a relatively light program of events during the first night of action at Juniors, but a 13 year old put a scare into one of the oldest records remaining. Germantown’s Andrew Abruzzo clocked a 15:36.03 in the 1500 to finish fourth, just five seconds off Jesse Vassallo’s age group mark from 1976, set four years prior to qualifying for the 1980 Olympic team. It might sound crazy to say just five seconds, but in the mile that means just three tenths of a second per 100. Abruzzo comes from the heavy-distance background of Germantown Academy, the same team that produced the likes of Arthur Frayler and the Crippen siblings. He would definitely be one to keep an eye on in the years to come.