SARASOTA — Riverview High junior Austin Katz carries the weight of more than one title on his back.
He's a district, regional and state champion. He’s a United States Junior World Team member. And he’s an Olympic Trials qualifier.
No matter how many accolades Katz has racked up over the past three years, there’s still one title that eludes him — but don’t expect Katz to be a champion breaststroker anytime soon.
“My coach, Brent Arckey, always jokes that none of the Katz’s are good at breaststroke,” Katz said, referring to himself and his older sister, Taylor ,and older brother, Alex. “We’re just not made for that.”
In a sport defined by strokes, Katz has become one of the area’s most dominant swimmers in both the 200-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke.
Katz won gold medals in both events at the Class 4A-Region 2 meet Nov. 7, in Clearwater, to help lead the Rams to a first-place overall finish. Katz also swam a leg of Riverview’s 200 freestyle relay, in which the team finished first, and 400 freestyle relay, in which the team placed second.
Katz, along with his Rams teammates, will now move on to the Class 4A Swimming and Diving State Championships Nov. 13, in Stuart. Katz is the No.1 seed heading into the meet in both his individual events.
"Austin's talent is in his racing ability," Riverview High and Sarasota Sharks swim coach Brent Arckey said. "He's a very good athlete, but his racing ability is what stands out the most. His ability to get his hand on the wall in close races and his ability to take his body to a place that's really uncomfortable."
Katz won Class 1A state titles in both the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke last season while swimming for Cardinal Mooney.
But although none of the swimmers who stood alongside Katz on the podium last year will be in the pool with him this Saturday, the motivation to defend his state championships is still there.
“It doesn’t make a difference what class or region you’re in," Katz said. "I just want to do my best and make a splash."
“In Class 4A, these are basically the people I train with every day,” Katz said. “But even though I have more knowledge of who I’m racing and there’s different people to race, it’s still just a swim race.”
Katz began swimming a little more than a decade ago, but it wasn’t until he joined the Sarasota Sharks when he was 11 that his career began to take off.
Like a lot of his teammates, Katz began swimming because of his two older siblings. Taylor and Alex Katz, who both swim for the University of Florida, liked swimming, so that meant Katz should like it, too.
“It felt natural to be in the water,” Katz said. “I was probably more talented in the pool and it just fit me better.”
Katz often would sit down with his older brother following a swim meet and compare their times. Two years ago, Katz beat the times his older brother, who also excels in backstroke, posted when he was the same age.
“It was definitely something I wanted to chase,” Katz said. “It’s not that I necessarily wanted to beat them, but I wanted to be able to contend with them.”
Katz spends roughly 22 hours a week training with his Sharks teammates either in the pool or alongside the pool for dry land workouts. He arrives at 5 a.m. at the Selby Aquatic Center, in Sarasota. After a 90-minute workout, Katz heads to school before returning to the pool at 3 p.m. for another two-and-a-half hours. He also swims for three hours on Saturday mornings.
“I think every swimmer has those moments where it’s tough to be here so often,” Katz said. “Swimming is a sport that takes its toll and is tiring. There are times when you wonder why you do this sport and keep coming here and going through the pain."
Katz has had more than his fair share of special moments — particularly this past summer, when Katz made the U.S. Junior World Team at the 2015 YMCA Long Course National Championship in early August.
As a result, Katz traveled to Singapore for the 2015 FINA World Junior Swimming Championships in August.
“You knew you were not only swimming for yourself, but for everyone back home,” Katz said. “Team USA had a very loud crowd, so you weren’t as nervous. You knew you deserved to be there; and in the end, no matter what happened, the fans would still be there for you. It’s a tightly knit group.”
While in Singapore, Katz won a bronze medal in the 200 backstroke. He also anchored the United States’ 800 freestyle relay and swam the backstroke leg of the 400 mixed medley relay, which featured two girls and two boys. It was the first time Katz had ever raced a girl in competition.
As he prepares to close out his high school swim season this weekend, Katz already is looking ahead to the 2016 Olympic Trials June 26 through July 3, in Omaha, Neb., and the possibility of qualifying for the 2016 Junior Pan Pacific Championships Aug. 24 through Aug. 28, in Hawaii.
“I just want to make an impact and hopefully get more Olympic Trials cuts,” Katz said.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].