2016 Swammy Awards: Age Group Swimmer of the Year – 15-16

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2016 Honorees: Eva Merrell and Drew Kibler

15-16 Girls

Eva Merrell – Aquazot Swim Club, Irvine, California

Merrell has been a quiet force in Southern California swimming for many years, but she had a remarkable year on the national scene in 2016. As a freshman in May of 2015, Merrell had the runner-up to Katie McLaughlin when the latter broke the national high school record in the 100 fly at CIF Division I Championships. Merrell broke 52 seconds for the first time at that meet. She then won the 100 back by nearly a second with a personal-best 53.0. Merrell skipped high school season in 2016 and spent the spring competing in long course meters. She competed in the 50/100m free, 100/200m back, and 100m fly at 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, making the semi-finals of both the 200m back and 100m fly. Merrell represented Team USA at the 2016 Pan Pacific Championships, where she won the 100m fly and was on the winning 4x100m free and 4x100m medley relays.

This fall she again represented the U.S., this time as a member of the National Junior Team at the FINA/airweave Swimming World Cup 2016 in Tokyo and Hong Kong. Merrell was a finalist in the 100m fly in Tokyo, and in all four of her events (100m free, 200m back, and 50/100m fly) in Hong Kong, where she finished 5th, 4th, 8th, and 7th, respectively.

Merrell closed out 2016 with some big performances in the 200 back and 200 fly, neither of which she has swum much in past seasons. At the 2016 USA College Challenge she dropped 5.2 seconds to win the 200 back for Team USA by 3/10, and in a pair of age-group meets in October and November, she took 5, then 4, seconds off her previous best in the 200 fly to settle at 1:56.96. Merrell has 7 SCY and 5 LCM swims that figure on the all-time top-100 lists for 15-16 girls, including top-15 performances in the 50y free, 100y/100m free, 100y/100m back, 200y/200m back, and 100y/100m fly.

Runners-Up

In no particular order:

Alex Walsh – Nashville Aquatic Club, Nashville, Tennessee

Walsh spent the first seven months of the year swimming as a 14-year-old, but no sooner did she age into the 15-16 category than she made her presence known as a force to be reckoned with. Swimming for Team USA at Pan Pacs, she scored a silver medal in the 200m IM, a mere 9/100 ahead of teammate Maggie Aroesty, whose national age group record in the 100y breast Walsh would break four months later. She also placed fourth in the 100m back and won the consolation finals in the 100m breast and 200m back.

Walsh had a spectacular Winter Junior Championships, winning the 100y back, 200y back, 100y breast, and 200y IM. She broke meet records in both the breast and IM, erasing the respective marks of Lilly King and Ella Eastin. Walsh became only the second 15-16 girl in history to break the 59-second barrier in the 100y breast. Aroesty did it in March when she took down the NAG with 58.98; Walsh bettered that by .18 with her winning 58.80. With a year and a half left to continue to better her records and take down more NAGs, Walsh ends 2016 with the #1 times among 15-16 girls in the 100y breast, 200y IM, and 200m IM; #2 in the 100/200y back; #3 in the 100m back; #5 in the 100m breast; and top-10 in the 50/100y free and 200m back.

Short Course NAG:
100y breast – 58.80 – 12/9/16

Isabel Ivey – Gator Swim Club, Gainesville, Florida

Only 15 for most of the year, Ivey held her own with some big names on the national stage. She competed at U.S. Olympic Trials in the 50/100/200m free and 100m fly, then went on to earn a silver medal in the 100m free at 2016 U.S. Open. She won the same event at Pan Pacs, and scored a bronze medal in the 200m free; she also anchored Team USA’s 4x100m free, 4x100m medley, and 4x200m free relays.

Ivey had a breakout meet at Winter Nationals, where she celebrated her first meet as a 16-year-old with her first national title. Ivey won the 100y free, came in second the 200y free, and won the C final of the 200y breast. A week later she won the 100y free and 200y free, the latter with a meet record (1:43.64), and 100y fly at Winter Juniors East. She was runner-up in the 50y free and third in the 200y IM.

Ivey has the 3rd-fastest 100y free time in history for 15-16 girls, and the 4th-fastest 200y free; she is also #4 in the 50m free, #5 in the 100m free, and #9 in the 200m free, with a year left to improve her standings.

Honorable Mention

Zoe Bartel – Fort Collins Area Swim Team (CO): Another swimmer who was 15 for most of the year, Bartel broke the national age group record in the 200y breast, shattering the meet record, while swimming at Winter Juniors West. Bartel became the first 15-16 girl in history to break the 2:07 barrier in the event, eclipsing Caitlin Leverenz’ 2:08.11 by 4/10 with her 2:07.73. Bartel wrapped up 2016 with the #1 times for 15-16 girls in the 100/200m breast and 200y breast, after winning the 100m and 200m breaststrokes at Pan Pacs and setting meet records with both swims.

Short Course NAG:
200y breast – 2:07.73 – 12/10/16

15-16 Boys

Drew Kibler – Carmel Swim Club, Carmel, Indiana

Kibler had an outstanding year tearing it up in the range of freestyle events from the 50 to the 500/400, but where he really made his mark was in the mid-distance slots where he scored two national age group records in the SCY 200 free and 500 free.

Kibler swam at U.S. Olympic Trials in the 50m free, 200m free, and 100m back. In August he added the 100m and 400m to his freestyle repertoire at Junior Nationals and came home with a gold medal in the 200, silvers in the 100 and 400, and a bronze in the 50. He represented Team USA at Pan Pacs, earning new personal bests in the 50m free, 100m free, and 200m free. He finished long course season with the #5 time in history for 15-16 boys in the 50m free, #3 in the 100m free, #2 in the 200m free, #24 in the 400m free, and #28 in the 100m back.

The youngest member on Team USA’s men’s squad at the USA College Challenge in November, 16-year-old Kibler nonetheless scored against college and pro swimmers in each of his four individual events. He placed fourth in the 50 free and the 100 free, third in the 200, and fifth in the 500. Three weeks later he went best times in all four of those events, as well as the 100 back, at Winter Juniors East. There he had an outstanding run, winning the 50y free, 100y free, 200y free with a meet record and national age group record of 1:33.40, and the 500y free with a meet record and NAG record of 4:15.36. He also placed sixth in the 100 back. Kibler came out of 2016 with the #3 swim of all-time for 15-16 boys in the 50y free, #2 in the 100y free (he and Ryan Hoffer are the only two 15-16s to have broken 43 seconds), #1 in the 200/500y free, and #40 in the 100y back.

Short Course NAGs:
200y free – 1:33.36 – 12/7/16
500y free – 4:15.36 – 12/8/16

Runner-Up

Reece Whitley – Penn Charter Aquatic Club, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Whitley has been etching his name in the record books for years now, but in 2016 he proved himself to be light years ahead of the competition in his signature event, the 200 breast. He owns the national age group records for both SCY and LCM, by 2.5 seconds in the former and .87 in the latter. He lowered his own mark in the 200y breast at Winter Juniors East by 1.29 seconds in December, breaking the meet record by 3.5 seconds with 1:52.37. He also took down the meet record in the 100y breast, which he won with 52.95.

Whitley’s most impressive events, however, may have been his IMs. At Winter Juniors he won both the 200y IM and 400y IM, the former with a meet record. He improved his personal best by 3.6 in the 200 IM, and was 7.9 seconds faster than he’d been in December 2015. Similarly, he took 7.4 second off his seed time in the 400 IM, and was 9.2 seconds faster than his last-year self. In addition to owning the top 200y breast time in history, Whitley now ranks #2 on the all-time list behind Michael Andrew in the 100y breast and 200y IM, and has moved to #7 in the 400y IM. In LCM he is #1 in the 200m breast, #2 in the 100m breast, and #27 in the 200m IM.

Short Course NAG:
200y breast – 1:52.37 – 12/10/16

Honorable Mention

Jack Dolan – Rockwood Swim Club (MO): Although still 15 years old, Dolan emerged as one of the big names in the 15-16 age group during 2016. He was the only swimmer under 18 years old in the A finals of the men’s 50y free, 100y free, and 200y free at 2016 Winter Nationals, where he placed 5th, 7th, and 7th, respectively. He also finished 10th in the 100y back and 19th in the 200y back.

Dolan’s championship meet in long course season was Austin Futures, where he won the men’s 50/200m free and was runner-up in the 200m back and third in the 100m fly. With another year left to swim in the age group, Dolan already owns the #6 times in history in the 50y free and 100y free, #20 in the 200y free, and #11 in the 100y back. In LCM he is #32 in the 50m free, #39 in the 100m free, #28 in the 200m free, #30 in the 100m back, and #85 in the 400m IM.

Michael Andrew – Race Pace Club (KS): Andrew aged out of the 15-16s in April, so most of what he accomplished during 2016 falls into the 17-18 age group (stay tuned). However, he did break the national age group record in the 50m free in January, going 22.33 to place fourth in the event at the 2016 Arena Pro Swim Series in Austin. Andrew left the 15-16s with the #1 times in history in the 50y/50m free, 100y/100m breast, 100y/100m fly, and 200y IM.

 

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Uberfan
4 years ago

20.10, 43.52 I think Jack Walker is the fastest 15 year old in the 200 free also

PVK
Reply to  Uberfan
4 years ago

1:33.7 in the 200…crazy fast & his best event

Uberfan
Reply to  PVK
4 years ago

He was as 1:56 in the long course and now he’s as low as a 1:33 in sc, not sure what his previous short course pb was but I’m sure it was a massive time drop

bobo gigi
Reply to  Uberfan
4 years ago

Before US short course juniors
50 free. 20.75
100 free. 46.14
200 free. 1.40.02

After US short course juniors
50 free. 20.10
100 free. 43.52
200 free. 1.33.73

Uberfan
Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

That 200 free time drop is so nuts the 100 free is really impressive too but shaving nearly 7 seconds off your 200 when you’re already at a really good level at least for your age is insane

bobo gigi
Reply to  Uberfan
4 years ago

His progression
At 12. 26.57/1.06.15/2.14.22
At 13. 22.92/51.68/1.54.30
At 14. 21.24/47.56/1.44.56
At 15. 20.10/43.52/1.33.73

Ok. Next year he breaks some American records! 😆

bobo gigi
Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

Best times in long course
23.82/51.58/1.56.12 from last summer
He has much improved since then.

PVK
Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

1:44 to 1:33….wow…..

Swim fan
Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

So if he stays on pace and drops another 10 seconds over the course of next year he should go 1:23 in the 200. Age group swimming has gotten insane.

Person
4 years ago

Kibler beats out some tough competition there. Probably some of the biggest names of men’s age group swimming.

Bill Bell
4 years ago

How about Regan smith? Two 13-14 NAG records @ Junior Nationals with her times in 100 back ( 51.08) and 100 fly (51.75) both meet records too? Not too shabby I’d say.

pinodee
Reply to  Bill Bell
4 years ago

I think you answered your own question. No matter how many 13-14 NAG records you break, you can’t win the 15-16 section unless you’re…well…15 or 16.

bobo gigi
Reply to  pinodee
4 years ago

Too much alcohol.

Ell Em En No Pee
4 years ago

No Noah Henry? HUGE SNUB!!!

bobo gigi
4 years ago

Another huge category in terms of talents. Most of the names mentioned above will be in Tokyo.
I considered Eva Merrell as a butterflyer but her backstroke has so much improved in the last few months that it’s not impossible to see her make her first US international senior team in the 200 back before the 100 fly. Regan Smith and Alex Walsh will swim against each other for a long time. 2 mega talents. Isabel Ivey is the US answer to young super talented Canadian girls. Very important for the US 4X200 free relay. Zoe Bartel has won the 100 breast and the 200 breast at last junior pan pacs. USA is looking for a new star in… Read more »

bobo gigi
Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

Forgot to mention Hoffer in the possible men’s 100 free line-up at next US olympic trials.
And MP of course if he comes back again…. 🙂

bobo gigi
4 years ago

Little compilation of race videos about the year of these young talents

Eva Merrell
100 fly final at junior pan pacs. 1st in 58.78.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPE98hhRfpk
4X100 free relay final at junior pan pacs. USA 1st in 3.42.70 Ariola/Pitzer/Merrell/Ivey
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gIuNn5ceGI
4X100 medley relay at junior pan pacs. USA 1st in 4.02.82 Nordmann/Bartel/Merrell/Ivey
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAXb6MhZ89w
200 back final at USA college challenge. 1st in 1.52.20
Video?
100 fly final at US short course juniors East. 2nd in 51.93
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7VS6PzRmQA

Alex Walsh… Read more »

bobo gigi
4 years ago

I think Lucie Nordmann and Robert Finke deserve a mention in that 15/16 age category.
Nordmann swam 1.00.16 in the 100 back and 2.09.40 in the 200 back at US junior nationals last summer. She took the silver medal in the 100 back at junior pan pacs very close to Atherton. She took the silver in the 200 back as well. And she led-off the US medley relay to win the gold.
Finke was very impressive at junior pan pacs with 2 dominant individual wins in the 1500 free in 15.05.29 and in the 800 free in 7.55.16. 2 meet records. He also won the 400 IM B-Final there in 4.21.04 and the 400 free B-Final in 3.55.57.

OG SWIMMER
Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

Join the discussion

OG SWIMMER
Reply to  bobo gigi
4 years ago

This is an Age Group award, Going fast and getting the job done in the second biggest meet every four years, shouldn’t be anymore important than swimming fast and getting the job done in Jr Nats.

Distance
Reply to  OG SWIMMER
4 years ago

Many teams decide not to go to Junior Nats due to its timing in the season. I think getting junior pan pac records are more impressive than placing at junior nats, especially since there are now two junior national meets. Short course means nothing to the world except in college swimming. Long course is what matters. It is interesting to see the bias towards sprint events. Robert Finke is 2nd all time in the 800, 3rd all time in the 1500, 25th all time in the 400, and 6th all time in the 400 IM. He also got 7th at Olympic Trials in the mile and swam a time at Junior Pan Pacs that would’ve been 3rd. Those rankings will… Read more »

cynthia curran
4 years ago

Alex Walsh is an exception, most backstrokers are not strong breaststrokers. In fact breaststrokes can be like Amanda Beard , second stroke fly or like Jessica Hardy-sprint freestyle.

About Anne Lepesant

Anne Lepesant

Anne Lepesant is the mother of four daughters, all of whom swam in college. With an undergraduate degree from Princeton (where she was an all-Ivy tennis player) and an MBA from INSEAD, she worked for many years in the financial industry, both in France and the U.S. Anne is currently …

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