When Thomas Vanderbrook competes in the Louisiana Swimming 13 and Over Short Course Championships beginning Thursday in Sulphur, he does so knowing it might be the last time he swims in a Louisiana state championship.
He’ll graduate from Rummel in a few months, so his days of dominating prep meets are complete. And later this summer, he’s off to Indiana University, where he will be focused on contending for Big 10 Championships.
“The Big 10s are always right about this same time, and I’ll be up there swimming that,” he said. “And I’m not sure about Long Course (state championships) in July. I’ll probably be getting ready for school. I’m going to ask the (Indiana) coaches about it, but they’re busy with the Big 10s right now. So I’ll find out soon.”
Vanderbrook, 18, will also find out how he’s improved in the three months since November’s Allstate Sugar Bowl LHSAA Division I championship, which was at Sulphur Parks and Recreation Aquatics Center. He was named boys Most Outstanding Swimmer in that meet, after breaking a 22-year-old high school record in the 100 backstroke. He also narrowly missed the prep state record in the 200 individual medley he established a year earlier.
Vanderbrook, who’s swimming for Crescent City Swim Club in the men’s open division, is seeded first in four of six individual events at the short course championships: 100 backstroke (50.06 seconds;) 400 IM, (4:01.58;) 100 freestyle, (45.76;) and the 200 IM (1:50.80.) He also is third in the 50 freestyle (21.32) and sixth in the 200 breaststroke (2:13.52.)
While he’s hoping to drop time in all events, Vanderbrook said one of the best parts of a Louisiana Swimming championship is that he competes against friends he does not race against in high school championships because those meets are divided by school size.
That sets up showdowns with talented swimmers such as Jackson Boersma of the Bulldog Athletic Club, who also swims for Ruston High in Division II. Boersma is the No. 2 seed in the 100 freestyle (46.72) and the top seed in the 50 freestyle (21.10).
“It’s fun to compete against guys like that,” Vanderbrook said. “My only chance is in short course and long course. It makes it more competitive because everyone has a shot at everyone. You’re not competing for your school here, but you are swimming for your team. That means a lot. You want to give it all you can, especially me since this may be my last one.”
Gabriella O’Neil, 14, is one of the top young women in the short course championships. She won Division II state titles for Cabrini in the 200 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, and the Crescents’ 200 freestyle relay was the fastest in all divisions in the metro area last season.
O’Neil swims year-round for Hurricane Swim Club, and she’s seeded first in the girls 13-14 200 freestyle (1:56.94) at short course. She’s also second in the 100 breaststroke (1:08.32), 200 breaststroke (2:36.37) and the mixed 1000 freestyle (11:18.06). She’s a top-8 seed in the 50 and 100 freestyles.
O’Neil said she relishes the chance to compete against all girls her age, regardless of their school. She’s particularly aiming for a Junior Nationals cut in the 100 breaststroke. The Junior Nationals meet is in Orlando, Florida, a few days after she is set to compete in the Speedo Sectionals in Plantation, Florida, in early March.
“If I make the cut, I probably won’t even leave Florida,” she said with a laugh. “I’m a bit off the time, but I know it’s going to be close. I know I can do it.”
Hurricane Swim Club coach Chris Prator knows O’Neil doubly well, as he also is coach of rival Division II powerhouse St. Scholastica, which has won six consecutive state titles at that level.
“We, high school/club coaches, always get super excited for the matchups we don’t get to see at high school state because of divisional parameters,” Prator said. “This Louisiana Short Course State Championship will be full of amazing (races), which back in November, we could only see on paper.”
The meet begins Thursday evening with only the 1,000- yard individual freestyle and 800-yard freestyle relays on tap. Preliminaries in other events will be held at 9 a.m. Friday-Sunday, with finals starting at 4:30 p.m. each day.