Kansas Incoming Freshman Walker Shines Bright at Futures

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Kansas swimming and diving will be well served by at least one of Libby Walker’s 2015 summer habits – carving up collegiate aquatic centers. Some of the freshman-to-be’s best swims have come in  NCAA Division I pools, including an Olympic Trials cut at the Mizzou Aquatic Center and four final-heat swims over the weekend at the USA Swimming Futures Championships inside the Boilermaker Aquatic Center at Purdue.

Walker, competing with her hometown Columbia (Missouri) Swim Club, opened the Thursday session with a runner-up finish in the 800-meter freestyle swim in a time of 8:53.88, then helped her Columbia Swim Club 800-meter relay team out-touch Rockwood Swim Club (8:31.81) and the Kansas City Blazers (8:32.92) with a winning timing of 8:31.51.

“This was my last club meet before I leave for Kansas and my biggest goal was to get another Olympic Trials cut,” Walker said. “I was closest in the 800, and although I didn’t have the swim I wanted, it was still pretty solid and not too far off my best time.”

Walker swam several off-events during the meet and couldn’t swim the 200-meter butterfly since she had already achieved an Olympic Trials cut in the event. She also didn’t swim the mile, which she could swim for Kansas, to focus more on the 800-meter freestyle.

On Friday, Walker failed to make it out of prelims in the 100-meter butterfly, but swam into the finals of the 400-meter individual medley with the seventh-fastest preliminary time and finished the final heat in seventh place.

During Saturday’s competition, she swam a 4:23.60 in the 400-meter freestyle prelims to qualify for the finals with the fifth-fastest time, then found a way to drop a little more time and finish fourth in finals with a time of 4:22.97. She closed competition Sunday by finishing near the top quarter of the field in the 200-meter individual medley.

The inaugural Futures Championships is a trio of meets taking place in Greensboro, North Carolina, Mt. Hood, Oregon and West Lafayette, Indiana, intended to give swimmers who didn’t qualify for USA Swimming Junior Nationals another showcase event.

Earlier this summer, Walker swam a 2016 Olympic Trials cut at the Speedo Central Section Region VIII Championship Meet in her hometown, narrowly missing the top position on the medal stand when she swam a 2:14.19 to finish as the runner-up in the 200-meter butterfly. Walker and Kansas senior-to-be Chelsie Miller, have qualified to compete at next year’s Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska (June 26-July 3) with a chance to make Team USA for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  

“I had a short rest going into the meet, it wasn’t supposed to be the big focus,” Walker said of sectionals. “The month leading up, I was really hitting a good pace in practice and really confident. I had the opportunity to swim the event in my home pool and decided I wanted to go for it. It wasn’t really unexpected, but not how we had planned it. I was really trying to focus on getting it this week, but it worked out for the best. I’m happy to get it out of the way and have that stress off.”

The swims are just the latest in a flurry of top finishes to close the prep career of Walker, the No. 1-ranked recruit from Missouri by CollegeSwimming.com. Walker posted four performances among the top-16 at the National Club Swimming Association Junior Nationals in March, with a sixth-place finish in the 1650-yard freestyle and a ninth-place finish in the 200-meter butterfly as her top placements. Last summer, Walker won both of those events at the 2014 Speedo Champions Series in Jenks, Oklahoma.

Walker is one of six newcomers, including five freshmen, who will join a talented, returning nucleus of Kansas swimmers who open the 2015-16 season on Oct. 2 with an intrasquad meet before starting the regular season with a double dual against Denver and Missouri State, Oct. 23-24. Both meets, the first of eight total home events in the area, will be held inside Robinson Natatorium.

“I’m so excited to be there and train with the girls,” Walker said. “I’m excited to have a shot to do really well my freshman year, and hopefully make the NCAA Championships – that’s the goal.”

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