Exeter swimmers compete at Nationals

Four Exonians compete with top swimmers from around the U.S. in senior and junior events.

Brian Muldoon
December 18, 2018
Phillips Exeter Swimming Jared Zhang

Jared Zhang cruises to a first-place finish in the backstroke at an Exeter meet last winter. 

Olympians, All-Americans and stars in the pool – these were daunting competitors for a group of Exeter swimmers at a pair of national events in December.

Andrew Benson ’20, Sydney Kang ’22, Jared Zhang ’19 and Charlie Venci ’20 flew down to Greensboro, North Carolina, to swim against the best of the best in senior and junior national competitions for the Solo Aquatics Club.

Benson and Kang traveled south for the Speedo Senior Nationals, vying against others for an Olympic qualifying time, while Kang also joined Zhang and Venci in the Speedo Junior Nationals meet the following weekend, going up against the top 18-and-under competition from around the country.

“Competing with some of the best U18 swimmers in the country was motivating,” says Zhang, who competed in his first national competition and will continue his swimming career at the University of Chicago next year. “Qualifying for Nationals was a goal I’ve had since prep year. It felt great to accomplish something you have worked so hard far.”

Kang joined Zhang as a first-timer at Nationals and endured a busy couple of weeks as she competed in three events at Senior Nationals and followed that with another five events the following weekend at Junior Nationals.

“It was a little challenging to be racing at that level for two weeks in a row,” says Kang. “The excitement carried over to the next heat and the next race, and it was nice to spend more time with my teammates."

For Benson and Venci, this was not their first national competition. They leaned on past experience to ensure a productive trip.

“Knowing what to expect was a big factor,” says Benson, who has verbally committed to swim at the University of Wisconsin. “I felt like I fit in more with the big boys. I was used to the sounds, the pool and the Olympians that were there, and it felt good to be alongside some of the best swimmers in the world.”

“I was a bit more comfortable this time around. I had my routine down for the day,” says Venci. “Everyone there lives and breathes swimming. At a typical meet you can look around and have a small group who will be swimming with top times for each event. At Nationals, everyone is so fast. There are heats and heats of really fast swimmers.”

That these four qualified and competed on the national stage should come as no surprise when they describe their training regimen, which often consists of a morning, afternoon and evening session in the pool in addition to daily dry-land trainings and lifts.  

“Everybody devotes their time to something,” says Benson, “I just try to be productive with mine and it’s a process. You have to put in the work and realize it’s not the coach that gets you faster, it’s yourself. You have to put in the hard work, put in the effort and put in your time. You get back speed and results.”

Now that they are back and swimming with Big Red, they would like to tend to some other goals. The boys would like to avenge a second-place finish at Interschols from a year ago, and take home the top spot. The girls have their eyes on the same prize.

“We want to win at Interschols,” says Zhang. “Andover got us last year, but that is what’s on our minds this year.”