Sandpipers of Nevada Have Emerged As Powerhouse Club With Young Talent Shining


Sandpipers of Nevada Have Emerged As Powerhouse Club With Young Talent Shining

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As each day passed at the Olympic Trials, the evolution of the Sandpipers of Nevada Swim Club grew exponentially in true Las Vegas form — from a longshot to a sure thing. One by one, the Sandpipers loaded swimmers onto their first Olympic team — Erica Sullivan, Bella Sims, Katie Grimes.

The club produced a trio of Olympians, then added a young teen named Claire Weinstein, who seemed poised to join the trio at the top of the sport one day.

“I was shocked at how they did, like everyone else, but also not really,” Sullivan said. “It made sense to me because they put in the same amount of work that I did.”

That was a year ago.

Fast forward to the present and the Sandpipers have proved to be no fluke.

Ron Aitken took over the Sandpipers in 1994 and was named the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee Development Coach of the Year after his trio of women made the Olympic team, along with Bowe Becker on the men’s side. Sullivan and Sims claimed Olympic medals and Weinstein, 15, became the youngest swimmer to qualify for the World Championships since 2007, where she joined Sims and Grimes.

“It’s really fun because everybody in our group is very motivated, so we just motivate each other. It’s definitely a great team environment,” Weinstein said after qualifying for Worlds.

Weinstein and Sims were part of the 800 freestyle relay that broke the meet record in 7:41.45 at the World Champs, along with Katie Ledecky and Leah Smith. Grimes earned a silver medal in the 1500 free (15:44.89) to finish behind Ledecky (15:30.15) and also took the silver in the 400 IM (4:32.67).

“I was really nervous leading up to it because it’s my first World Championships and Team USA has been doing a great job, so I wanted to keep that going,” Grimes said. “I was really just focusing on what my coach and I had talked about on strategy. I’m not super happy with the time but I think it’s good for right now. There’s always room for improvement but anytime I get to race I’m having a good time.”

Weinstein finished 10th in the 200 freestyle (1:56.94).

Last year at Olympic Trials, Weinstein was the youngest swimmer in the meet, the only athlete born in 2007 or later. She finished 20th in the 400 free, 28th in the 200 free and 34th in the 800 free, and shortly after that, Weinstein moved across the country from New York to Las Vegas to begin training with the Sandpipers and Aitken.

At Winter Junior Nationals in Austin, Texas, she placed second behind Grimes in the 1,650-yard freestyle and, third —behind Sims and Grimes — in the 500 free and fourth in the 200 free, continuing the Sandpipers showcase at the national level.

Weinstein started 2022 with a huge swim before turning 15 as she tied the 13-14 200 free national age group record set by Sippy Woodhead in 1978 (1:58.53).

June’s TYR Pro Swim Series top in Mission Viejo was the Sandpipers’ personal showcase. It was a meet of pride, but also a meet to prepare. The Sandpipers leaders all competed in several events, including multiple swims nearly each day. It was preparation for the World Championships and U.S. National Championships coming later this summer.

Sullivan made her long-course return after her first NCAA season at the University of Texas and won the 1500 free in 16:34.91, her first 1500 since winning the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics in the event, going 1-2 with Ledecky.

“It was a good starting point,” Sullivan said. “This was my first mile back since Tokyo and I hurt my shoulder at open water a couple months ago and had bronchitis a week ago! This is a meet of being really kind to myself and just getting a starting point. It’s not the time that I wanted—it’s not a good time at all—but I know what I need to do so I’m excited and I feel hopeful for what’s coming in these next few weeks so I can be ready for [the Phillips 66 National Championships].”

The domination continued as Grimes, Sims and Weinstein went 1-2-3 in the 400, just a few minutes after Sims, who has committed to Florida, also took second in the 100 freestyle.

“I’m happy with it,” Grimes said. “I’m just listening to what my coach told me to do. It was a little bit faster than what I went a couple weeks ago so it’s a good sign going into the summer.”

Grimes then won the 200 backstroke in 2:09.52 after Weinstein claimed victory in the 200 free (1:58.31), just ahead of Sims (1:58.97). Grimes defeated backstroke specialist Isabelle Stadden in the event, something that shows she and the Sandpipers are not just about distance freestyle.

“I was just trying to keep the tempo up and just trying to get my hand on the wall. Isabelle is a great competitor and I love racing her. She’s just a stud,” Grimes said. “I’m pretty happy with it. I just wanted to get it under 2:10, that was really my goal for the race.”

If that wasn’t enough for the day, Grimes (4:36.77) and Sims (4:43.46) went 1-2 in the 400 IM as all three swimmers performed extremely well with a difficult and quick double.

On the final night in Mission Viejo, Grimes (8:27.72) and Sullivan (8:47.54) went 1-2 in the 800 freestyle.

“I was just trying to finish off a strong weekend,” Grimes said.

She and the Sandpipers did that, and then some.

The most remarkable thing about the rise of the Sandpipers is the fact that they are not some pro team or post-grad team loaded with professionals. This team dominating is mostly a bunch of high school kids and a college freshman. Meanwhile, Ilya Kharun is a rising star on the men’s side, his talents committed to a collegiate career at Arizona State.

The legend of the Sandpipers is growing as more young stars emerge and remain in the country’s elite group of swimmers. Sullivan earned All-American honors in her first year at Texas. She will be joined in the college ranks next year by Sims at Florida, while Grimes and Weinstein still have some time before making their college decisions, but will look to be as strong as their older teammates at the NCAA Championships in the future.

But it will never be quite the same for the Sandpipers as it was in 2021. Their rise at the Olympic Trials put them in the nation’s spotlight for the first time. The club looks to remain there in the future, but they are now established as one of the best clubs in the country. As the stars look toward the World Championships, the 2024 Olympics and beyond, they will continue to build the remarkable legacy of the Sandpipers — once a longshot, but now a sure thing.

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Jessy Forbes
Jessy Forbes
1 year ago

We have been following the Sandpiper crew for a couple of years. Always fun to watch them race. That team is doing something special.

1 year ago

Swimming World – Sandpipers also put 16 year old Abby Dunford on the Worlds Team in the pool and open water with Team Canada. She is the current Canadian National Champion in the 1500 free from this years trials.

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