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Making the Cut

Sarasota Sharks send strong contingent to U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

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  • | 5:30 a.m. June 23, 2016
Left to right: Sarasota Sharks swimmers Drew Clark, Austin Katz, Danny Erlenmeyer, Keanan Dols, Bethany Leap, Nancy Hu and Matthew Garcia will all compete for an opportunity to swim at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Left to right: Sarasota Sharks swimmers Drew Clark, Austin Katz, Danny Erlenmeyer, Keanan Dols, Bethany Leap, Nancy Hu and Matthew Garcia will all compete for an opportunity to swim at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
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Matthew Garcia had exhausted all of his options. 

His fate rested solely on the strength of his back. 

The Sarasota Shark had 200 meters to prove he was capable of competing alongside the best names in U.S. swimming. 

Standing on the pool deck, Garcia, a 2016 graduate of Cardinal Mooney, was overcome with nervous energy. Yet for someone down to his last chance to make the cut, Garcia didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of pressure. 

He was determined. 

After failing to make the U.S. Olympic Team Trials standard in his preliminary heat, Garcia knew the 200-meter backstroke final of the YCF Summer Solstice Invitational June 17 was his only remaining opportunity to qualify in the event. 

Garcia sliced through the water to the final 100 meters to finish the race in 2 minutes, 2.72 seconds — more than a second faster than the Olympic Trials cut. 

He had done what only a select group of swimmers have been able to accomplish, earning an opportunity to compete in the U.S. Olympic team trials. 

“I was mentally determined more than anything,” Garcia said. “It’s always in the back of your head, so it feels good to finally accomplish that.It means a lot, but I’m not done.” 

With his first cut behind him, Garcia returned to the pool and posted a time of 56.51 seconds in the 100 backstroke to capture his second cut. 

Garcia is one of nine Sarasota Sharks swimmer traveling to Omaha, Neb., site of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. The Sharks will compete in nine events throughout the competition, which begins June 26 and runs through July 3. 

“These guys have been pretty good all the way through,” Sharks coach Brent Arckey said. “They are a pretty close-knit group. They like to do everything as a group, and I didn’t expect this to be any different.” 

Austin Katz, a rising senior at Riverview High, will be making his second consecutive appearance at the U.S. Olympic team trials — only this time, Katz will be in the pool. 

Katz went to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in 2012 to watch his older sister, Taylor, and older brother, Alex, compete. 

He knew at that point, he wanted to experience the meet from the other side. 

“It became a goal in my mind,” Katz said. “It’s what I’ve been working and training for every day, so to achieve that and to be able to compete at that level is fulfilling.” 

Katz will compete in the 200 freestyle and the 100 and 200 backstrokes alongside his sister, now at the University of Florida, who will compete in the 400 freestyle and 200 butterfly. 

Katz is looking forward to once again sharing the pool with his sister, although more than anything the two siblings are excited to spend time in the Village Shops, particularly the puppy play area. 

“We both talk about how nervous and excited we are,” Katz said. “I think nerves are a good thing sometimes, but we don’t want to psych each other out.” 

Katz is seeded 12th in the 200 backstroke, his signature event, and is one of the 40 fastest swimmers in the world. Although with Olympic champion Tyler Clary and bronze medalist Ryan Lochte, one of the United States’ most decorated swimmers behind Michael Phelps, who also will be in attendance, Katz recognizes the challenges he faces.

“It’s the United States’ most dominating event, so it’s a blessing and a curse to have it be your best event,” Katz said. “If I see other people as being the best, then I’ve already given up the race myself. I love to race older people and be the underdog. Racing is what this whole sport is about.” 

Joining Katz and Garcia on the men’s side will be Riverview alum Drew Clark, who will swim for Florida this fall, Cardinal Mooney alum Matt O’Donnell, now at North Carolina State University, and Lakewood Ranch alum Danny Erlenmeyer, who also will swim for NC State. 

“I’ve always looked up to the older swimmers and wanted to be like those kids, so it’s exciting and means a lot to have made it,” Clark said. 

After narrowly missing the U.S. Olympic Team Trials four years ago, Booker alum Bethany Leap, now at the University of Texas, and Riverview alum Nancy Hu, now at the University of Pennsylvania, both will finally have the opportunity to see their hard work pay off. 

“Honestly it’s such an honor,” Hu said. “It’s an accumulation of so many years of hard work. We both had many failed attempts and now it finally happened. It’s the biggest meet on American soil, so it’ll be exciting to see what we can do.” 

Leap agreed. 

“Everything happens for a reason,” Leap said. “It just fueled the fire for the rest of the summer. The U.S. is so good at swimming, so it’ll be exciting to watch our friends and teammates realize their Olympic dreams.” 

Taylor Katz and Lakewood Ranch graduate Danielle Valley, now at the University of Wisconsin, will round out the Sharks contingent. 

Although the Sharks aren’t favored to land a spot on this year’s U.S. Olympic Team, Arckey expects several swimmers to have the opportunity for second swims, which would put them in the top 30 in the country. 

No matter what the scoreboard says, all of the swimmers are fortunate to have the opportunity to take their careers one step further and see how they stack up against the faces of U.S. Swimming in preparation for 2020. 

“This trials is a set up for the next trials,” Katz said. “It’s a tryout for the tryouts.” 

“I want them to realize there’s a whole other level out there,” Arckey said. “Don’t stop here as a state champion and an Olympic Trials qualifier. Yes, you’re a really good athlete, but the amount of work and commitment that goes into competing at the next level is pretty substantial.” 


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