West Xtra: Ambridge grad makes U.S. team

COLLEGE SWIMMING


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As a long-distance freestyle specialist, Lindsay Vrooman has nearly done it all.

She won six individual gold medals at the PIAA championships while at Ambridge, swimming to WPIAL and PIAA records along the way. She captured Big Ten championships in record time, Indiana University records, a Big Ten swimmer of the year award and several All-America honors.

Nothing, she said, compares to this.

A senior in Bloomington, Ind., Vrooman was recently named to the USA Swimming National Team in the 400-meter freestyle. This team, consisting of six athletes in each event, will participate in international competitions and eventually be whittled down to the top three in each event who will represent the United States at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"This is probably one of the coolest things I've accomplished," Vrooman said. "It's unlike any other award or anything I've ever done before because it's more across the country, not just from a small area or the Big Ten or high school.

"I've kind of reached a level that I've been working toward. Everything from high school to the Big Ten has been working toward this. I'm really proud about this accomplishment."

Swimmers were selected for the National Team based on their times in Olympic events from combined results of the 2013 Phillips 66/USA Swimming Nationals and World Championships, the 2013 World University Games, the 2013 World Championships and the 2013 U.S. Open.

Vrooman will be competing on the same team as Olympic medalists Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte and Katie Ledecky, a 16-year-old from Bethesda, Md., who was just named USA Swimming athlete of the year.

"It really hasn't hit me that I'll be on the same team as them," said Vrooman, a resident of Baden. "To actually say I'm on a team with Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin is still a little unbelievable.

"I'm really not used to it yet but it's definitely pretty awesome."

And, according to Vrooman, one year premature.

"Throughout this summer my goal was to make nationals next summer, but as the season went on and my times started dropping, after I hit the world championship times I had a goal in my head that I could make the team this summer."

It's no surprise that Vrooman is on the National Team, Indiana coach Ray Looze said. It's more like: What took so long?

"I wasn't surprised at how Lindsay swam this summer. We're almost surprised it didn't happen sooner. She's just a super trainer and you could see things in practice that kind of indicated that that was in her. She just hadn't quite put together a complete race to that point.

Vrooman's complete race came in August at the U.S. Open Swimming Championships in Irvine, Calif.

She turned in a negative split in the 400 freestyle, finishing the second 200 in a faster time than the first 200, and ended up finishing in 4:08.13, the fourth-fastest time in the country and an Indiana record.

"I had a different strategy [for the race]," Vrooman said. "I started off with a 2:04 and came back with a 2:03. I was in eighth place at 100 so I was really able to control my race well. I was definitely thinking about [making the National Team]. I can remember in the last 50 of my 400 that is what I was thinking about."

And the 400 freestyle isn't even her strongest event.

"Now it is," she said with a laugh. "I used to be more of a miler. My mile course has been more of a work in progress. It hasn't really been close to my short course. This summer it has finally caught up to where I want my times to be but I still think I have places where I can improve because I'm still not as good in the long course as other competitors."

Vrooman has always excelled in the distance events and displayed her stamina her junior year at IU when she earned Big Ten swimmer of the year. She won conference titles in the 500-yard freestyle and 1,650 freestyle and was part of the winning 800 freestyle relay team that was the first team to ever finish faster than seven minutes in 6:59.48.

"She's very mentally tough, No. 1," said Looze, who placed three members of his Hoosiers team on the National Team along with senior Cody Miller and junior Steve Schmuhl. "She's a hard worker, consistent. Loves swimming. She's able to train at a super high level and she has an incredible pain tolerance.

"She's such an awesome leader, which I think makes her even better because she's so team-oriented that she has helped create a great environment here at Indiana and she benefits from that."

A benefit that she failed to get while a student at Ambridge, however. Because Ambridge did not sponsor a swimming program, Vrooman swam independently in high school and trained at the Pine-Richland Aquatic Club.

"I don't think it set me back not having a high school team," she said. "In a way it might have almost helped me not having a full team. When I came to IU, having that immediate team I immediately went into the process. I loved having so many teammates there. It never seemed overwhelming to me. I fit right in."

Now Vrooman is trying to fit right in as an Olympic hopeful, right along with the Franklins, Lochtes and Ledeckys on the USA Swimming map. Looze, however, wants to keep her under wraps just a little while longer.

"I see her as this person who people don't know," he said. "They had better watch out. She's the best-kept secret in United States swimming. She's still a little bit of a secret, a little bit on the fringe. Out of the top six people she's fourth.

"I don't know if the top couple girls are paying attention. I'm praying that they don't. I love when somebody can lie in the weeds and spring out. I think the underdog role is a good one for her. I don't know how much longer she'll get to play it, but she's as good as anyone out there."

olympics - sportscollegenational

Rick Davis: rdavis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3789.


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