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2016 Honorees: Eva Merrell and Drew Kibler
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.