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Swimming: It’s trials by fire

Ten local athletes will take part in Olympic Swim Team Trials

Posted: June 24, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 24, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Swimmers trained at Canyons Aquatics Club, from left, Matt Johnson, Riley Mita, Abbey Weitzeil, Michele Duraj, Konrad Antoniuk, and Bob Hwang will all swim in the 2012 Olympic Swim Team Trials beginning Monday in Omaha, Neb. Not pictured are Hart graduates Nick Korth, Anthony Ervin and Jordan Danny and Santa Clarita resident Andrea Kropp.

For some, it’s a dream come true.

For others it’s only the beginning.

A few have been here before, and many are making their debut.

But for 10 athletes with drastically different paths to the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials, there is one common thread — the Santa Clarita Valley.

From Monday to July 2, the nation’s top swimmers will converge on Omaha, Neb., with the goal of making the 2012 USA Olympic Swim Team.

For the majority of swimmers, the Olympics are a long shot. But for seven local swimmers representing Santa Clarita’s Canyons Aquatics Swim Club, there is plenty more to strive for.

The group has already accomplished a lot.

In 2008, the club sent just one swimmer, Hart and Canyons Aquatics graduate Jordan Danny — now a USC swimmer — will be returning to trials in 2012.

Danny made up one of just 10 swimmers the club had sent to trials in its history, a number now greatly inflated by the current group of seven.

“I remember I went to Jordan Danny’s (send-off) barbecue and it’s amazing that there are seven now,” said Canyons and University of Denver swimmer Michelle Duraj, who will be swimming the 200-meter breaststroke at trials.

The current crop of Canyons swimmers aren’t the only ones heading to Omaha that have spent their days in Santa Clarita Valley pools.

Another Canyons Aquatics and Hart graduate, Anthony Ervin, will be returning to trials this season, along with Santa Clarita Valley resident and Flintridge Sacred Heart graduate Andrea Kropp.

Even more impressive than the number of swimmers, though, is where they come from, as five of the six Foothill League schools are represented among the group.

There’s Hart sophomore Matt Johnson and Saugus freshman Abbey Weitzeil who, last year at the age of 14, became the youngest swimmer in the valley’s history to qualify for trials.

Weitzeil will swim the 50- and 100-meter freestyle races, while Johnson will compete in the 1,500-meter free.

For Johnson, the last local swimmer to make the trials when he qualified at the Speedo Grand Challenge in Irvine earlier in May, training for the trials has been challenging.

“I just tapered (to get the Olympic Trials time) so I’ve got to get back in shape real fast,” he said, adding that his goal is to swim a personal best time.

“Place, for me, doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s just to swim with all these fast kids.”

In addition to the two current high schoolers, West Ranch graduate Riley Mita plans to swim the 400- and 1,500-meter freestyle races, Golden Valley graduate Duraj, Valencia graduate Bob Hwang (200-meter butterfly), and Hart graduates Konrad Antoniuk (1,500 free) and Nick Korth (100 breast and 200 breast), Ervin (50- and 100-free) and Danny (100- and 200-breast) will all be competing.

For the current crop of Canyons swimmers, making the Olympic team isn’t much of a reality, with the goal being to drop time, post personal bests, and for some of them, if everything goes right, make it to a second swim.

“That’s been the goal all along is a second swim,” said Canyons head coach Jeff Conwell. “I’ve told them getting (to trials) is not the goal. I do think we have a shot at a second swim.”

For Ervin, a second swim looks to be just the beginning.

The 1999 Hart graduate who still holds Foothill League records in the 50 and 100 frees and is considered by most to be the most decorated swimmer in valley history, is making a return to competitive swimming after a 2003 retirement.

A gold medalist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Ervin enters trials seeded sixth in the 50 and 16th in the 100 with a legitimate shot at making the 2012 team.

Danny, the only other Foothill swimmer making her second trials appearance, said having previous experience in the event in 2008 will help her in Omaha.

“I’d say I know what to expect. I know how nervous I’m going to be. When I was there last time, you had to sit in the ready room and you had to essentially just wait there and they parade you out before your race,” she said. “Now, I know to expect that, and I know the nerves that will be coming and I feel like I’m more grown as an athlete, more mature. I feel like I’m more mentally prepared.”

In 2008, Danny finished 19th in the 200 breast and 39th in the 100 breast, and is seeded 48th in the 200 breast and 80th in the 100 breast this year.

“When I was younger, I kind of psyched myself out,” she said. “But now, being at SC and competing at Pac-12 and competing at national meets for a while now, the mental aspect is not so much a scary thing anymore. I look at it as a lot of fun.

“I’ve given myself specific goals, but nothing I want to get myself upset about if I don’t.”

Kropp, also in her second Olympic Trials, is a member of the USA National Team and is poised to impress in Omaha.

Her signature event is the 200-meter breaststroke, in which she is seeded sixth. But she is also in the top 30 in three other events, 16th in the 200-meter individual medley, 24th in the 100 breast and 28th in the 400-meter individual medley.

The contingent of Santa Clarita athletes won’t have to wait long to get in the water, with three scheduled for swims on day one of the meet.

Korth (100 breast), Mita (400 free) and Kropp (400 IM) will be in the water on Monday, kicking off a long week for Santa Clarita swimming.



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