A calmer, more confident Katie Kinnear took to the starting blocks in the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center, as the 18-year-old rising sophomore prepared to swim in the Speedo Junior National Championships one last time.
Now armed with a year of competitive experience at the collegiate level, Kinnear joined other top swimming talents under the age of 19 last week in Irvine, Calif., to compete in the meet that she had spent most of her summer preparing for.
“Since I’ve been to NCAAs now, it’s like this meet doesn’t seem as big, so it was a lot easier to not get as nervous. It was just more of a conference meet than a national meet to me,” Kinnear said.
Kinnear’s performance at the meet reflected her confidence.
She placed in three events, taking third in the B final and 11th overall in the 200-meter backstroke, 7th in the 100-meter butterfly, and winning the C final and placing 17th overall in the 200-meter butterfly.
Kinnear’s accomplishments over the summer did not go unnoticed by coach Cyndi Gallagher, who expects them to give Kinnear a newfound belief in herself.
“I think she learned that the reason she’s successful is because of her, not because of anything else, and it’s confidence,” Gallagher said.
Assistant coach Naya Higashijima echoed those sentiments; she also mentioned noticing Kinnear’s newfound confidence on display during her races in the junior nationals.
“I thought she finished her races really well. Her strength is upfront speed, but being able to finish allowed her to improve her time, and I think that came from her being confident,” Higashijima said.
Also competing in the meet were Nina Hayes, Linnea Mack, Michaela Merlihan, Ashley Tse and Madison White, all five incoming Bruin freshmen.
Both Tse and White finished in scoring positions, with Tse finishing 13th in the 100-meter breaststroke and 19th in the 200m breaststroke, and White placing eighth in the 100m backstroke event.
Although Gallagher and Higashijima haven’t had many opportunities to interact with the incoming freshmen, both coaches expressed optimism about what they think the freshman class can achieve.
Higashijima said she believes that the incoming freshmen will be able to take advantage of the large recruiting class to improve the swim team and set a new standard for freshmen in the program.
Gallagher on the other hand, highlighted the incoming freshmen’s shared enthusiasm and excitement to contribute to UCLA’s swimming program, and mentioned how the players have started a freshman text message group to stay connected as they wait out the days until fall quarter.
She also expressed the hope that the addition of the bubbly freshmen will inject new energy into the team and motivate the players to train harder for the upcoming season.
“Sometimes, you know, you get complacent. You come in, you do the same thing. But when you have these little puppy dogs coming in and they’re like ‘Oh, fast! Let’s go harder, let’s do more! Let’s go fast!’ It’s kind of annoying for the upper classmen, but they were like that too,” Gallagher said.
While that excitement can be irritating for some swimmers, Gallagher said it’s good for the team overall.
“That’s the attitude, that’s the energy that we want to have. It’s to continue to make workouts more challenging, and if you have a little puppy dog chasing you, you’re going to swim faster. And they’re fast!”