By John Lohn
VILLANOVA, Pennsylvania, January 30. SHE didn’t need to be there. Many in her position, actually, ignore the high school swimming scene. They don’t see a need for the experience. They don’t need to deal with the added demands, namely a dual-meet schedule that jams an already packed agenda. But, Kate Ziegler operates a little differently.
Most individuals connected to the swimming community know Ziegler as the future of American distance swimming. They know her as the teenager who left the World Championships in Montreal last summer with a pair of gold medals, rewards for her first-place finishes in the 800 and 1,500 free events. At Villanova University on Sunday afternoon, Kate Ziegler was viewed in an enhanced light. Yes, she was still the double world champ. But, she was also a high school swimmer, a girl who relished the chance to share time with scholastic teammates.
At the 71st edition of the National Catholic Championships, Ziegler walked away with three titles – two individual – and a silver medal. Her solo triumphs both arrived in meet-record time, as she wiped out marks she had established a year earlier. Her most impressive performance of the afternoon, however, arrived deckside, during a post-competition interview.
“I love this atmosphere,” said Ziegler, who trains under Ray Benecki with The FISH. “So much of the time, I’m swimming for myself. Being part of a high school team is really important to me. I love the relays. I’ve had the chance to turn pro, but there’s no chance I would give up or miss the high school season.”
How refreshing. In every way, Ziegler’s unselfish comments reflected a young girl who is mature beyond her years. Able to handle the lofty expectations placed on her shoulders and the hype that surrounds her pursuit of several Janet Evans records, Ziegler also recognizes the importance of camaraderie. Sure, she’s made major sacrifices, largely to accommodate her training program. Yet, through high school swimming, Ziegler embraces her youth and the idea of team.
At National Catholics, Ziegler put on a show for the second consecutive year. She captured top honors in the 200 free (1:47.93) and 500 free (4:40.23) and also anchored Bishop O’Connell to victory in the 200 medley relay, her anchor leg of the 50 free wiping out a one-plus second deficit. For good measure, she helped O’Connell take silver in the 400 free relay.
Prior to the meet, there was speculation that Ziegler might give Evans’ national scholastic record in the 500 free a scare. The record of 4:37.30 has stood since 1988. Ziegler owns the national private-school standard at 4:37.67 and has been under the overall mark in USS competition, where she’s clocked 4:36.30. Another chance at Evans’ record will present itself in late February when Ziegler races at the Metropolitan Championships.
“It’s my major goal of the season,” said Ziegler, who will travel to Shanghai, China in April for the World Short Course Championships. “(Evans) is such a hero of mine and to break one of her records would mean so much to me. Some days, everything just clicks and that’s what it’s going to take to get the record.”
Next up for Ziegler is a trip to Long Island, New York for the latest stop of the FINA World Cup Series. The meet is scheduled for Friday and Saturday and Ziegler is planning on contesting a multitude of freestyle events, although her focus will sit on the 400 and 800 distances. A year ago, Ziegler used the meet to set an American record in the 800 free.
“I’m really excited about it,” she said. “That meet has treated me well. I’m just going to go up there and try to swim some best times.”