Amy Bilquist and Sprinters Shine on Final Night of Junior Nationals

Photo by David Farr

Editorial coverage for U.S. Junior Nationals proudly sponsored by Q Swimwear!

By David Rieder

IRVINE, California, August 3. WITH Junior Nationals now wrapped up, what will this meet be remembered for? Rightfully, Townley Haas deserves first mention here; with his victories in the 100, 200, 400, and 800 free, he can be considered one of the best young freestylers in the U.S. In an era of intense specialization, it boggles the mind to think someone could win two events so distinct as the 100 – by any measure, a sprint – and the 800 – definitely not a sprint. Not to forget, of course, that Haas put down times in the 200 (1:48) and 400 (3:51) that will have him in the running for championship finals next week at Nationals.

One could also look at the emergence of Sierra Schmidt as a name to watch on the national scene. She completed the 400-800-1500 sweep with a mile time of 16:24.09, a mark that ranks 18th in the world this year. Like Haas, she will have a chance to make an impact when she faces off with the big guns beginning on Wednesday. Meanwhile, in the 200 IM, Kim Williams could be a name to look out for after dropping down to a 2:14.58 for the win. Resurgent Allie Szekely took second, but she has unfinished business for next week after being disqualified in the 200 breast – arguably her best event – at Juniors.

For me, though, the biggest takeaways from the final night of Juniors might come from the 50 free events, where Amy Bilquist and Caeleb Dressel both showed some cards. Bilquist blasted a 25.28 in the 50 free, just missing Missy Franklin’s techsuit-era meet record of 25.23. That time won’t keep Cate Campbell up at night, but Bilquist’s improvements offer optimism for the future of American women’s sprinting. Despite consistent success in the 400 free relay and even the 100 free, no woman not named Dara Torres has won an international medal in the event this century.

At last year’s Juniors, Bilquist finished 11th in the 50 free with a top time of 26.21. She failed to advance out of prelims in the 100 free and also took 11th in the 100 back. She won all three events this time around. She clocked sparkling times in all three events, including a 54.85 in the 100 free and 1:01.04 in the 100 back – dropping more than two seconds from last year in each. But in the 50 free, she swam just three tenths of a second slower than Natalie Coughlin did to make the World Championships team last summer. Bilquist has been on the rise over the past year, and expect that to continue into her senior year of high school.

On the men’s side, seeing Caeleb Dressel take first surprised no one. He won the 50 free in 22.36, edging out his best time from last year’s meet of 22.39. Dressel provided one of the highlight swims in the brief history of the Greensboro Aquatic Center in December when he dropped an 18.94 50 yard free, but he has mostly flown under the radar since. Seeing him back and swimming faster than he did last summer – with Nationals still to go – assuages any fears about his preparation for his senior year at Florida. He might not be ready to knock of Nathan Adrian at Nationals, but the SEC needs to watch out.

For Future Reference
Iowa Flyers’ Ruby Martin stood out on the final night with a blazing 2:16.73 in the 200 IM. Swimming in her first Junior Nationals, Martin had previously swum in the consolation finals of the 200 fly and 400 IM this week in Irvine. She made her first championship heat on the final night, qualifying fifth in the 200 IM. Martin ignored any nerves and pressure and promptly cut a second and a half from her previous best time of 2:18.13 from prelims. The time ranks her eighth all-time in the 13-14 age group. In comparison, two-time World Champion Katie Hoff ranks second on that list, less than a second and a half ahead.