Five Kansas Swimmers Chasing Fast Times at AT&T Winter Nationals
LAWRENCE, Kan. – As Kansas swimming closes one of its fastest fall efforts in recent years, five Jayhawks will look to amp up their speed a little higher at USA Swimming’s AT&T Winter Nationals in Federal Way, Washington at Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center, Dec. 3-5.
Less than two weeks removed from a Big Challenge performance filled with season- and lifetime-best marks, Yulya Kuchkarova, Chelsie Miller, Haley Molden, Lydia Pocisk and Libby Walker will represent the Crimson and Blue among the best swimmers in the country while vying for individual Olympic Trials qualifying times in the long-course meters contest.
“They are going to get out there and Thursday through Saturday we will be doing long course races, which will be great,” Kansas head coach Clark Campbell said. “It’s nice to be able to do this in the middle of the season. They’ll also get to see some of their competition that they might see in Omaha at the Olympic Trials and take advantage of that.”
With the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics on the horizon, each of the swimmers are looking to take advantage of this weekend’s meet to either earn or improve an Olympic Trials (June 26-July 3, 2016) cut, or in Kuchkarova’s case, meet the FINA qualifying standard for a return trip to the world’s grandest stage for her country.
Both Miller and Walker head to Washington having already met trials cuts in their marquee events. Miller has earned cuts in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys as well as the 200-meter butterfly. Walker has qualified in the 200-meter butterfly as well.
This will be Miller’s third consecutive trip to Winter Nationals. In the previous two years the Houston, Texas native has garnered back-to-back silver medals in the 400 IM. Miller is scheduled to compete on all three days with her eyes set on a fourth qualifying time in the 800 free on Saturday. She opens competition Thursday with the 200 IM, followed by the 400 IM on Friday and the 200 fly and 800 free Saturday.
“I don’t know if it’s quite old hat,” Campbell said on Miller’s third trip to nationals. “Anytime you get to race in a national championship event it makes you a better athlete. There will be a lot of pros there as well as people that she will be racing against at Olympic Trials. Chelsie gets very mentally motivated for big meets like nationals, she’s definitely looking forward to racing this weekend.”
Walker, who is just a freshman, will be heading into this meet with a little bit of a different mentality as this will be her first official championship competition. The Columbia, Missouri product will join teammate Miller in the 800 free and 200 fly. While she is looking to improve her cut in the 200 fly, she is just under two seconds from qualifying in the 800 free. Both of Walker’s events will be conducted on Saturday.
Senior Haley Molden will look to carve qualifying times of her own in the 50- and 100- meter freestyles. She is just six-hundredths of a second from earning a trials cut in the 50 free and less than two-tenths of a second in the 100 free. She participated in the Olympic Trials as an incoming freshman four years ago and turned in her best summer training effort since.
“We’re really happy with where she’s at right now,” Campbell said. “Hopefully she can get her trial cuts this weekend. She really epitomizes the Olympic ideals – it takes monumental effort to make that Olympic dream happen. She’s done what she set forth to do and now it’s just a matter of continuing that progress.”
Molden will swim the 50 free on Thursday and the 100 free on Saturday.
Pocisk, who swam as part of last year’s Kansas contingent at Winter Nationals, is seeking her first trials cuts. The sophomore from Dayton, Ohio will race in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events. She will compete on Friday (100 breast) and Saturday (200 breast).
“Hopefully she can get a trial cut,” Campbell said. “She didn’t have the summer she wanted, but she has the ability to get a trials cut. It’s just a matter of getting reps and getting into racing. She’s a lot like Chelsie (Miller), when she gets into big meets she really gets into them. This will be an exciting opportunity for her.”
Kuchkarova, a native of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, represented her country at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and has a slightly different path to Rio. The Kansas junior will swim in the 100- and 200-meter backstrokes at the meet. She less than five-tenths of a second from qualifying in the 100 back (Friday) and three seconds away from the qualifying time in the 200 back (Saturday).
After nationals concludes, the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center will host a short course time trials for collegiate athletes to attempt to swim NCAA qualifying marks on Sunday, Dec. 6. The rest of the Jayhawks who are not competing in Washington will host William Jewell for a quick dual inside Robinson Natatorium Friday, Dec. 4.
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