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Swimming: Prep star’s aim: meet, then beat her idol

BRUMBAUM READY TO TEST SONI

BY ADAM HIMMELSBACH

Riverbend rising senior Kayla Brumbaum has long admired Rebecca Soni, who is one of the top swimmers in the world.

Soni holds short course world records in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke, and she is a three-time Olympic medalist.

At next week’s U.S. Olympic trials, Brumbaum will face an interesting juxtaposition. When she takes the pool for the 100 breaststroke, Soni will at once be her idol and her competition.

“Just to even see her in that ready-room before the race, that’s when it’s all going to hit me,” Brumbaum said. “Like, ‘Wow, I’m really here.’”

Brumbaum is the only one of the six Fredericksburg-area swimmers competing in the Olympic trials who is still in high school.

Her youth is often apparent, from gushing over Soni to the fact that she still trains at the YMCA in Stafford and coaches in the Rappahannock Swim League.

The team she helps coach at the Curtis Park pool has even rented out a Buffalo Wild Wings, where they will have an Olympic trials viewing party to cheer her on.

“It’s really nice that I have so many people that I see day in and day out who say ‘good luck’ or ‘congratulations’ to me,” Brumbaum said. “It’s really nice to see the community come together.”

But Brumbaum’s bubbly feelings have not affected her focus in the pool. She understands the magnitude of this opportunity.

She will have the chance to compete alongside some of the best swimmers in the world, and plenty of college coaches will be watching her performance closely.

“This is her showcase,” said Brumbaum’s coach, Bob Herlinger. “She needs to go out there, have fun, and think of it as another meet. We’ve mined a lot from her, but we think there’s a lot more there.”

As a sophomore, Brumbaum stormed to a stunning win in the 100 breaststroke at the Group AAA state championships. She then qualified for the Olympic trials by winning the 100 breaststroke at the YMCA National Championships in Atlanta.

She seemed to take a mild step back this past high school season, placing fifth at states. But her modest regression was due in large part to the fact that she was training for this summer.

Typically, Brumbaum would “taper” late in the high school season—meaning she would scale back her workload to rest and focus on small details of her stroke.

But this year she did not taper until last week.

“During the high school season, I was a little beat up and worn out,” Brumbaum said.

But now she is refreshed and ready.

She has been working on lengthening her stroke so she wastes less energy during the first half of the race and is more prepared for the second.

Herlinger has also worked with Brumbaum to strengthen her turns—an area in which she has ceded ground in past races.

The results, Brumbaum said, have been noticeable. Her personal best in the 100 breaststroke is 1 minute, 11.94 seconds. She is hoping to break 1:09 at trials.

“I really think it’s possible,” Brumbaum said.

And a time like that would certainly pique the interest of college scouts. Herlinger said Auburn, Louisiana State, Arizona, Florida State and North Carolina State are among the schools that have expressed interest in Brumbaum.

She is looking forward to the chance to impress them, but most of all, she is simply looking forward to the experience. She is looking forward to that moment when she sees swimmers she has always looked up to, and then does all she can to defeat them.

Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442

ahimmelsbach@freelancestar.com

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