Boys to Men: Highlights of Age Group Swimmers at Speedo Winter Juniors West

Photo Courtesy: Melissa Wolf

By Melissa Wolf, Swimming World College Intern. 

This past weekend, over 500 men were racing at the 2018 West Speedo Winter Junior National meet in Austin, Texas. Out of this large group, ten male age group swimmers looked to make names for themselves on the senior level. Of those ten, two had breakthrough swims to make it into finals. Many more swam best times, and all of them represented age group swimmers in a positive light.

A quick search of these young men and their times will show you that they have improved consistently over the past four years; they were not instant successes nor fading stars. All of them held AAAA times throughout their careers, with one NAG record-holder and numerous All-Time Top 100 Age Group times. These young swimmers should be on the watch list as they transition to the senior level.

Photo Courtesy: Melissa Wolf

Ronald Dalmacio, 14 of Rose Bowl Aquatics, holds NAG records across multiple age groups. Dalmacio qualified for the championship final in the 100 backstroke with a time of 48.64, which now ranks him as the number two all-time fastest in that event. He also swam personal best times in the 200 IM and 200 backstroke. His name is known by his fellow age group competitors and is spreading throughout the nation, even to the older swimmers.


Photo Courtesy: Melissa Wolf

Tona Zinn, 14 of SOCAL Aquatics Association, had a perfect meet, putting up best times in all five events and qualifying for finals in both of the IM events. In addition, he achieved his first Summer Jr. Nationals cut in the 400 IM with a time of 3:52.53. Reflecting on the meet after Saturday’s events, Zinn comments:

Qualifying for Winter Jrs was a checkpoint on my plan to reach my goal of swimming at Olympic Trials in 2020. My next checkpoint is Summer Jrs, then Nationals next year. I am on track and actually ahead of where I thought I’d be this year. I was not expecting to make finals my first year, but after seeing the psych sheet, I knew I had a chance.

Zinn is not a big guy, but that didn’t stop him from racing big – particularly in some deep events like the 200 fly in which he narrowly missed swimming in finals. When you are the best in your age group, there are very few races with pressure or even competition. Competing at a meet of this caliber assured Zinn that he would have other athletes pushing him to the next level:

I love the environment here, because it is so different. You can see fast swimmers in person and learn so much from coming to finals. The times are super close, making it 100 percent likely you will have someone to race. I always do better when I have someone racing with me.


Photo Courtesy: Melissa Wolf

Charlie Arnold, 14 of Bellevue Club Swim Team, swam in the outside lane of the 100 breaststroke, smoking his heat while dropping three seconds to swim a 57.39. He also dropped nearly five seconds in the 200 breast to finish with a 2:04.84. According to his coach Leland Rivers, Arnold has always been a very talented swimmer but has just recently exploded to this level.

Arnold comments on his racing experience: “When I first came to the Jr. National meet, I was nervous about racing older and bigger athletes. But as the meet went on, I gained confidence in myself and my swimming and felt the power of my team behind me.”


Photo Courtesy: Melissa Wolf

Teammates Samuel Bork and William Hayon of the Mid-Wisconsin Wave Makers might not have had the meet they had hoped for, but they have a lot to be proud of. As the only team representing two age-group men at this meet, they demonstrate that teammates need each other for encouragement and competition at practice to become better. While Nick Simons of Lake Oswego Swim Club was just off his best times in both backstroke events, he remains positive: “This is a great experience. We get to swim in a great pool, and there are lots of older swimmers we are able to race. It is good to watch crazy fast swimming, like Gianluca Orlando swim a 1:42.99 in the 200 IM.”

Alec Filipovic of St. Charles Swim Team, Zheir Fan of Metroplex, Michael Phillips of Aquajets Swim Team, and Tom Caps of Aulea Swim Club are all 14 and posted at least one personal best time over the weekend.


Photo Courtesy: Melissa Wolf

Fourteen-and-under programs build technique, character and work ethic. These men have been with their coaches and teams for the long haul. They have built their base and formed their bonds. The coaches who brought these young men to this level deserve a pat on the back and encouragement to keep up the good work!

There is no magic equation to reference for the success of these young age group swimmers; large clubs and small clubs are both represented, male and female coaches have led them and the clubs are located from the West Coast to the Mid-West. The only common denominator is that the swimmers have believed in themselves and their coaches to get them here and push them further.

USA Swimming does an excellent job of setting benchmarks for swimmers to check if they are currently on the right trajectory to reach their goals. Every four years, they post the National Age Group Motivational Time Standards as a way for swimmers and coaches to set attainable goals. As a governing body, they also host meets that progressively have more difficult time standards. These tools help swimmers of all abilities move from one level to the next at their own pace. Age group swimming is about long-term success and lifelong enjoyment. Qualifying for a big meet as a young man is not the end goal but is part of the process.


Photo Courtesy: Melissa Wolf

The famous swimming quote, “If you have a lane you have a chance” – seen plastered on t-shirts and bag tags – is true for all in this sport. The pool and clock do not discriminate by age, weight or size: these young men are proving that. At age 14, they are significantly smaller and less developed than most of their competition; however, they have earned their lanes and are out to prove to those around them that they, indeed, belong. These ten young men represent a small demographic that proves not all young phenoms fall off; they are on a trajectory of improving and staying at the top of their age group into the senior level and hopefully beyond.

A common theme among these young competitors is that racing in their own age group is uninspiring. For most of these strong swimmers who have been champions time and time again in their LSC and beyond, they are ready to confront bigger obstacles and race tougher competition. Winning all the time can lull you into complacency until you arrive at a meet where you are no longer the biggest, best and fastest. At this point, you have two choices: become better or be left behind.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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