Patrick Finley: Freshman travels in fast lane

Brandon shot her first deer at age 12, swam in Olympic trials at 14
2013-02-14T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:33:26Z Patrick Finley: Freshman travels in fast lanePatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Bonnie Brandon moves fast. She joined a swim team at age 4, upgraded to a more competitive club at 9 and participated in the U.S. Olympic trials at 14.

She and rival Missy Franklin dueled in club and high school events back home in Centennial, Colo., and again at the 2012 trials, in which the 18-year-old Brandon swam four events. Franklin won the 200 backstroke; Brandon was fourth.

Brandon first traveled internationally to swim at 15 and has been to Guam, Guadalajara, Maui, Barcelona and, this past December, to Istanbul. There, at the FINA World Swimming Championships, she posted the year's second-fastest 200 backstroke time, anywhere on the globe.

That was two weeks after, as a freshman, Brandon broke the Arizona Wildcats' all-time 200 backstroke record. Her time of 1:51.49 is the second-fastest in the NCAA this season.

That's a lot of living for someone who didn't turn 19 until December. I mean, what else has she done?

"When I was 12, I shot my first deer and antelope," said Brandon, a rifle hunter. "Since then I've done about two a year."

As a recruit, she sent Eric Hansen photos of her dead deer. The UA swim coach, a whitetail hunter, would write back with envy.

"A 17-year-old girl with a trophy, a nice buck?" he said. "It was awesome.

"If you're a hunter, you're able to be by yourself and comfortable in a tree stand all day long. There's a solitude to that that helps in swimming.

"Because you basically put your head under water and look at that black line."

She usually gets there first. Brandon has won 28 individual events and four relays this season.

She has raced 13 different events this season - backstroke and freestyle, relays and individual medleys.

Her swims have been as short as 50 yards and as long as 1,000.

"She can swim anything," Hansen said.

It's an absolute luxury in a sport whose team title rests on a points system.

"That's what you recruit, what you look for," the coach said. "Versatility, competitive desire, and the ability to put it all together."

In the UA's last four dual meets, the 6-foot-2-inch freshman was booked to do four events in a two-hour span. The 200 backstroke and 500 freestyle were five minutes apart.

She finished them with a smile, even if she told me this week they were "horrible" in retrospect.

"It's amazing what you're capable of," Hansen said, "when you don't talk yourself out of it."

The grueling schedule was by design, said the coach, who wants Brandon to focus on getting more power from her legs.

"To race when conditions aren't great, and aren't perfect, is really important," he said.

The Pac-12 Championships start in two weeks, but the Wildcats are more concerned with the NCAA national championships five weeks from now.

"We like to compare ourselves to the best in the nation, not the region," Hansen said.

Brandon will work on her pace times until the national championships, in which she'll swim the 200 backstroke, 500 freestyle, either the 100 backstroke or the 400 IM and some relays.

She's so young, Hansen said, that there's no pressure.

Arriving at a young age, though, is nothing new for her.

"Race the person next to you," Brandon said. "Our sport is just racing.

"If the person next to you is going faster, you better try to catch up."

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @patrickfinley.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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