WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
On an emotionally-charged night, the South Florida Aquatic Club turned heads Saturday at the Texas Senior Circuit Swimming Meet at Texas A&M.
Caroline Kuczynski, 19, won her second individual event in two days posting career-best times in both prelims and finals of the 100-meter butterfly.
Texas A&M-bound Melissa Cooper made a good first impression in front of her new college coach.
Cooper knocked off two-time Olympian and Texas A&M’s NCAA champion Alia Atkinson to win the 100-meter breaststroke at the Student Recreation Center Natatorium in College Station, Tex.
The SOFLO men’s 400-meter medley relay team of Brandon Goldman, 15, Alex Rodriguez, 19, Luke Torres, 16, and Ryan O’Shaughnessy, 19, finished third in 4:04.27 to pick up 32 points and enable the Nike-sponsored team to remain in fifth place with 269 points heading into the third and final day of competition on Sunday.
Kuczynski swam the second fastest time in the 100 butterfly prelims in a career-best 1 minute, 2.25 seconds, bettering her previous best of 1:02.53. She dropped again in finals to win her second event in 1:01.11. She won the 50-meter butterfly on Friday night.
“That is a really good swim, she is further along than I thought she was,” said SOFLO coach Michael Lohberg. “She is a great swimmer. When you do the right things with her she can do great stuff.”
Kuczynski, who will be a sophomore at Arizona State this fall, is both surprised and excited by her swims. Buoyed by a new dryland strength program from her college strength and conditioning coach, she looks and feels stronger in the water.
“I feel stronger than I ever have before,” Kuczynski said. “I have been training really hard and it’s all coming together with the swimming and strength. I am pulling through the water way better and feel great in the water. Everything feels so good right now.
“I was really nervous coming into this meet with no rest,” Kuczynski said “It’s good to know I can go this fast this early in the season not rested. I still have time to fine tune everything. It’s definitely motivating to know.”
With only 15 to 20 minutes between her events, Kuczynski finished fourth in the 200-meter freestyle. She bettered her career-best time of 2:11.05 in prelims in 2:08.09 and again in finals in 2:06.04.
“The last 50 I felt it,” Kuczynski said. “I just went in with nothing to lose. College really helped me get used to racing so many events in a short amount of time. You learn to swim three to four events in a time frame of an hour. Your body gets used to it.”
Kuczynski has the 200 butterfly and 200 individual medley remaining on Sunday.
It was Kuczynski, wearing one of the team’s new caps, who made history for SOFLO by being its first swimmer in the first heat of the first event in the team’s first national meet.
In an exciting women’s 100-meter breaststroke final, Cooper, 17, held off the more experienced and hometown favorite Atkinson, 21, to win her first major title at the national level.
Cooper won in 1:12.52, her second fastest career time. Atkinson finished second in 1:12.57. She was seeded first after morning prelims (1:14.16). Her career-best time is 1:11.74.
For Cooper, the race was inspiring to swim in her future home pool in front of her college coach Steve Bultman.
“I love this pool, it feels like silk and I love the atmosphere,” Cooper said. “It was a great race. I wasn’t that nervous and I don’t know why. At first I didn’t even know the final was ready. I thought, ‘oh, oops, let’s get behind the blocks.’ It was the most relaxed I’ve ever been.”
During morning prelims, Cooper got the chance to watch Atkinson before she swam her heat.
“It was motivating to watch her swim,” Cooper said. “I am pretty competitive and to get the chance to race against someone like that was great. I am pretty shocked right now. I would have been happy with a 1:14 since we just started training hard.
“Everything felt like it just clicked. I am finally getting confident and my stroke felt wonderful. This was my second best 100 breaststroke ever.”
After a few anxious weeks when Cooper signed with Clemson only to find out the college planned to drop its swim program, Cooper signed with the Aggies.
“It was a very stressful time but everything worked out a lot better than it would have been,” said Cooper, who competes in the 50 breaststroke and 50 freestyle on Sunday.
Also in the 100 breaststroke, Brittney Phelan, 17, finished ninth in 1:15.57, close to a career-best; Anne Kuczynski, 15, was 19th in a career-best 1:18.66 and Lucia Morris, 16, was 27th in 1:22.82.
In the men’s 100-meter butterfly, Torres, 16, finished seventh in 57.75. Both his morning time (57.98) and finals time were career-bests. His previous best was 58.63.
Also in the butterfly, Zain Qali, 22, was 12th in 58.90. Sell, 18, was 43rd in 1:03.23.
“It was a decent swim,” said Qali, who competes in the 200 butterfly and 200 IM on Sunday. “I have been practicing hard for the summer. Right now I have a lot of mileage in my body and I feel a little heavy in the water. By the end of July I hope to go best times.
“The kids on the team are doing great and racing best times. They are very motivated. They train with us and they are motivated to go faster.”
In the 100-meter breaststroke, Rodriguez, 19, was tenth in 1:07.65; O’Shaughnessy, 19, was 13th in 1:09.25; and Marc Rojas was 24th in 1:13.59 after swimming 1:10.90 in prelims.
In the women’s 200-meter freestyle, Emma Lincoln, 14, was 53rd in a career-best 2:15.12 and Jenna Moodie, 15, was 64th in 2:16.54.
In the men’s 200-meter freestyle, Sell, 18, was 16th in 2:02.63 and Rojas was 56th in 2:05.44.
In the men’s 400 individual medley, O’Shaughnessy was 10th in 4:46.86;
Torres was 12th in a career-best 4:52.32; Goldman was 22nd in 4:54.75, his second time drop in the event after a 4:55.78 in morning prelims bettered his seed time of 4:57.94; and Sell was 23rd in 5:00.38 after swimming 4:56.75 in prelims.
The SOFLO women’s 400 medley relay team of Moodie, Phelan, Morris and Lincoln was 12th in 4:57.41 and picked up 10 points.
SOFLO national team assistant coach Kathleen Prindle has been pleased with the team’s showing.
“Overall, the kids are surprising me,” Prindle said. “They are doing very well. We came to this meet with the expectations of getting more experience as a training meet.
“They just got into hard training yardage, they are all rather tired and did not taper but we have had a lot of best times and a lot of finalists,” Prindle said.
“Anne Kuczynski has had significant best times and been finaling in all of her events. Brandon Goldman dropped 2 ½ seconds in the 400 IM prelims and another second in finals. We’re quite happy.”
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com