By Sharon Robb
August 2, 2014—Emily Kopas of Swim Fort Lauderdale won her first major national title Saturday at the USA Swimming Speedo Junior National Championships at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Complex in Irvine, California.
The University of Michigan bound 18-year-old captured the 200-meter breaststroke title in a lifetime-best 2:29.53, shaving 2.08 seconds off her previous best of 2:31.61.
It was the first time the high school state champion and All-American had cracked the 2:30-barrier and she couldn’t have picked a better stage.
Kopas led from wire-to-wire taking it out fast with a 34.06 opening split. She continued to lead a tight race at the halfway mark (1:12.27, 38.21 split) and continued to look smooth and fast in the water. After turning at 1:50.40 (38.13 split), Kopas held off the field with a 39.13 split for the impressive win.
“That was the plan to go out fast,” Kopas said. “I went out like I did this morning and instead of backing off the second 50 I continued my stroke rate. At the end it was just survival mode.
“I am really happy with the race. I am really thankful I have such a great coach (Dave Gibson). I was very nervous before the race and he was there for me. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my teammates, my dad and mom and my sisters.
“It’s a really nice set up for senior nationals and my first season at Michigan.”
Kopas was ranked second in the state of Florida behind future Michigan teammate Clara Smiddy of AquaKids Sharks and 29th in the Class of 2014 recruits. She is following in the footsteps of her father Bill and uncle Brice, who both swam for the Wolverines.
At the 2013 Speedo Junior Nationals she went 1:09.93 in the 100-meter breaststroke shortly after swimming 2:32.58 in the 200-meter breaststroke at the 2013 U.S. National Championships.
“I think I have finally gained the confidence and starting to gain the strength and mentality to train with more advanced swimmers instead of being a little kid,” Kopas said.
Kopas, a junior national team member, will compete in this week’s senior nationals before leaving for Michigan on August 27th.
“It’s all happening so fast and getting closer to college,” Kopas said. “I am really excited about the future.”
Swim Fort Lauderdale Coach Dave Gibson gave out the awards for the women’s 200-meter breaststroke.
It was a good night for Florida Gold Coast and Florida Swimming swimmers in the national spotlight.
Elise Haan, 16, of T2 Aquatics was third in the 100-meter backstroke in a best time 1:01.67, dropping 0.49 seconds.
Megan Moroney, 17, of St. Andrew’s Swimming was sixth in the 200-meter freestyle in a best time 2:00.83, dropping 0.73 seconds.
Cece Williams, 18, of Area Tallahassee Aquatic Club, using a strong kick, won the “B” final and finished ninth overall in the 200-meter freestyle in a best time 2:01.12, dropping 1.58 seconds.
South Florida Aquatic Club swimmers will wrap up the week in distance events. Melissa Marinheiro will compete in the 1500-meter freestyle and Kathleen Golding, at 13, one of the youngest in the meet, will time trial the 800 freestyle.
In other championship finals:
Women’s 200-meter freestyle: Stanzi Moseley, 16, of Roadrunner Aquatics won her first national title in a lifetime-best 1:59.88, cracking the 2-minute barrier for the first time. She was the only swimmer in the field to dip under 2 minutes.
Men’s 200-meter freestyle: Townley Haas of NOVA of Virginia Aquatics won his third freestyle national title in 1:48.75, just off the meet record. It was the sixth fastest time in his age group.
Men’s 200-meter breaststroke: University of Louisville-bound Todd Owen won his first title in 2:16.25. Owen swims for the college’s club team and has the benefit of working with three-time Olympic breaststroker Vlad Polyakov. The former football player had a lifetime-best 2:23 before this summer.
Women’s 100-meter backstroke: Amy Bilquist, 16, of Carmel Swim Club won in 1:01.04 for her second title of the meet.
Men’s 100-meter backstroke: Michael Andrew, 15, of Indie Swimming, won his first junior national title in 55.73. It was a lifetime best for the pro swimmer.
Women’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay: North Baltimore Aquatic Club won by nearly three seconds in 8:13.33 with Mary Pelton (Liz’s little sister), Maddie Runge (younger sister of Cal recruit Cierra), Princeton recruit Heidi Miller and 14-year-old sensation Easop Lee.
Carmel Swim Club leads the combined and women’s team standings and Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics leads the men’s team standings.
Sunday’s events are women’s 1500-meter freestyle, men’s 800-meter freestyle, 200-meter individual medley, 50-meter freestyle and 4×100-meter medley relay.
The meet, both prelims and finals, is being live-streamed at usaswimming.org. The five-day meet concludes on Sunday.
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com