By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Even while placing herself among the top collegiate swimmers in the 200-meter breaststroke, Molly Hannis was never particularly comfortable with the event.
“I never had much confidence in it,” the Santa Rosa High grad said Friday. “It makes me really, really nervous every time. No matter how many times I swim it, I always have butterflies.”
Hannis might need to use the past tense now. She slashed 3½ seconds off her personal best in the 200 in a preliminary heat at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Neb., narrowly missing a spot in the evening’s semifinals.
Hannis entered the race as the No. 65 seed in the event. She finished with the 20th best time, 2:30.60, just four-tenths of a second behind the semifinal qualifiers.
Two other Empire swimmers also competed in the 200 breast. Cardinal Newman’s Taylor Young finished 87th at 2:38.28, and Penelope Yamauchi, who recently graduated from Arizona State after doing the same from Montgomery High, was 98th in 2:39.84.
Rebecca Soni was the day’s fastest qualifier at 2:23.11, and she won the final race in 2:21.45, earning a place on the Olympic team along with Micah Lawrence (2:24.12).
The most exciting moment may have been a swim-off between Allie Szekely and Gisselle Kohoyda, who finished the heats in a dead tie for 17th — the alternate spot should one of the finalists have to withdraw. Szekely, just 14 years old, won the tiebreaker.
“Most bad ass race of the meet was definitely the 14 year old winning the swim off in an old school suit, while the entire stadium cheered!” Yamauchi tweeted.
For Hannis, the result was confirmation that a recent change in technique might alter her competitive future.
At the beginning of summer, her coaches at the University of Tennessee (Hannis will be entering her sophomore year this fall) convinced her to pause for a beat when her hands are extended, not when they are down by her side as she had always done.
“The way I was originally swimming, my coach describes it as swimming up and down,” she said. “My body is going up and down, up and down. Now I go up and shoot my body forward.”
The new form has dramatically reduced Hannis’ stroke count. She went out very fast Friday, with the eighth-fastest split after 50 meters. That’s typical for Hannis. The difference this time was that she stayed strong and finished with a big kick.
Hannis can’t wait to refine the stroke. Her next chance will be at the U.S. Open Swimming Championships, in Indianapolis from Aug. 7-11. That meet is a qualifier for the World University Games, held next summer in Kazan, Russia.
“I was originally hoping to make the team in the 100 breaststroke,” said Hannis, the Southeastern Conference champion at that distance. “More and more, it’s looking like I’ll have a shot at the 200.”
Maya DiRado, the Stanford swimmer who graduated from Maria Carrillo, will swim today in the women’s 200 backstroke, her final shot at an Olympic berth. DiRado is seeded seventh in the event.
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or email@example.com.