OMAHA, Neb. - Sara Borendame is six weeks away from her senior year at Ironwood Ridge High School, but age didn't matter Tuesday at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials.
In the preliminaries of the women's 100-meter breast stroke, Borendame, 16, was matched against 30-year-old gold medalist Amanda Beard and world favorite Rebecca Soni, 25, a USC grad.
"It was a mix of complete nervousness and energy, a little hectic, but I wouldn't change it for anything," said Borendame. "It felt good."
Borendame was 134th of 152 swimmers in the event, but at 1:13.65, was only five seconds behind Beard, who qualified for the semifinals. (Beard failed to advance to tonight's finals.) Perhaps by the 2016 Olympic trials, Borendame can shave five seconds from her time and be a finalist.
"I hope to continue swimming for as long as I can," said Borendame, who trains daily with the Ford Aquatics team at Hillenbrand Aquatics Center. "I got my qualifying time for the trials in March and have spent three or four months anticipating this. It was as good as I expected."
Borendame will remain in Omaha until Saturday, soaking in the trails, working out in the pool with Olympians and taking mental notes. Her immediate goals are to win a state championship at IRHS and earn a college scholarship.
"I think that whoever puts in the most work are those who win the state championships," she said. "I've learned that by watching the post-grads at the UA, and I can see evidence of that here, too. I'm just going to keep working."
Hadinger: 'Not my best swim, but it's cool'
Nick Hadinger graduated from the UA with a physiology degree last month and will begin training for a possible EMT career as soon as the Olympic trials conclude.
But the Sabino High School grad is first going to absorb the Olympic trials experience, as he did Tuesday in the 100 backstroke prelims. He was 70th overall, fifth among seven fellow UA and Tucson Ford Aquatics swimmers in the event at 57.44.
"It wasn't my best swim, but it's cool swimming under the lights with all the big names," he said. "I'm going to have my last competitive swim here this week (Thursday's 100 freestyle) so I'm going to make the best of it."
Hadinger isn't difficult to identify in a mix of 1,850 swimmers. On the back of his right shoulder is a colorful tattoo with an Arizona Wildcats "A" surrounded by the words "heart, soul, passion, battle."
"That's the motto we live by, HSPB, in UA swimming," he said. "I was a walk-on, and I'm going to carry around that reminder for the rest of my life. I've thoroughly enjoyed my years swimming for Arizona."
Denninghoff qualifies for 100 back semifinals
Sabino High grad Sarah Denninghoff, who competed in the 2008 trials as a 15-year-old, qualified for Tuesday's semifinal 16 in the women's 100 backstroke earlier in the morning. She finished 15th overall.
Her time of 1:01.63 isn't her best, but she was sidelined for two weeks in April, hospitalized with a serious strain of the flu.
"I just wanted to get in the final 16," said the 11-time UA All-American, who has one more year of eligibility. "I wanted to go faster, but my training is good, and I thnk before I leave this week I'll get to where I want to be."
Denninghoff is swimming in four events in Omaha.
Incoming UA freshman 20th in 100 breast
Incoming UA freshman Emma Schoettmer of Greenwood, Ill., is part of UA coach Eric Hansen's 2012 women's recruiting class that is ranked No. 1 nationally.
"I can't wait to get to Tucson," Schoettmer said after finishing 20th overall in the 100 breast stroke prelims Tuesday morning. "This isn't my best event; I'm better at 200 meters."
Schoettmer took recruiting visits to USC, Penn State, LSU and Virginia before deciding on Arizona. She is generally ranked as one of the 10 leading incoming freshmen in the country.
"I chose Arizona for a mix of academics, swimming excellence and the coaches," she said. "Everywhere you look here, you see swimmers from the UA."
Drake, boyfriend Refsnyder, loving Omaha
UA senior All-American Monica Drake competed in the 2008 Olympic trials in the same pool, but she didn't have quite the media attention that she has gotten in Omaha this week.
Her boyfriend is UA outfielder Robert Refsnyder, Most Outstanding Player in the College World Series.
"I had a lot of fun watching him with the national championship," she said. "I went to the first five innings Sunday night and had a few minutes talking to him after the championship game. It was good to see him so happy."
Drake swam in the 400 freestyle Tuesday and will return to swim the 100 freestyle Friday. She will then go home to Bloomington, Ill., until fall semester begins.
"Robert is going to Staten Island, N.Y., to begin his minor-league career with the New York Yankees, and I'll be home for a while," she said. "We've been dating since November - we've talked every single day since then - so we're not going to be able to be together as much as we want from now on."