High school swimming season preview: Leverenz makes her own waves

2012-09-14T00:00:00Z High school swimming season preview: Leverenz makes her own wavesMatthew Lechuga Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 14, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Living up to your own high standards can be hard enough. Throw on the added pressure of having an older sibling raise the bar to incredible heights and things become even more difficult.

That's the problem Rincon/University High School swimmer Brianna Leverenz faces right now.

Brianna's older sister, Caitlin, competed for the U.S. swim team at the London Olympics and took bronze in the 200 individual medley and tied for sixth in the 400 IM. And as a junior at University of California, she won the Honda Sports Award for Swimming, which recognizes the top swimmer in the nation.

"I think everyone would feel some pressure trying to follow up someone like Caitlin," Brianna said. "But I don't take that pressure into account because I'm my own person. I have to feel confident in what I do and not compare myself to her.

"But it's nice knowing that we share the same genes."

Caitlin has a pretty hefty résumé, but Brianna is well on her way to creating her own highlight reel. Last year as a freshman, Brianna took second in the 200 freestyle and third in the 500 freestyle in the Division I state swimming championships.

That was Brianna's first taste of the big stage.

This summer she got a taste of an even bigger one.

The younger Leverenz was poolside in the London Aquatics Center for her sister's bronze medal showing.

"The overwhelming emotion when my sister touched that wall; she looked up and she started crying and my mom started crying, it was so cool," Brianna said, tears forming in her eyes as she recounted the scene. "Then she got out of the pool and she looked up and me and just beamed this ear-to-ear smile. Seeing her that happy made me so proud and I just hope that one day I'll get to experience something similar."

Procter & Gamble sponsored a house where all of the Olympic athletes' families could go, giving Brianna a chance to rub elbows with some of the best athletes in the world.

"I'd walk in and I'd start talking with (eight-time Olympic medalist) Jason Lezak, or with the goalie of our men's water polo team," she said. "You get the true Olympic spirit because you're meeting these people that have tried so hard to get to this point. It's inspiring."

Unfortunately for Brianna, her favorite Olympian is also the one everyone is comparing her to.

Ideally, there wouldn't be a comparison at all considering they specialize in two different areas. Caitlin in the sprints and Brianna preferring the distance events.

"In the longer races you can really break them apart and there's a lot more strategy," said Rincon/University girls swim coach Patty Olstad. "Two very different types of races."

But Caitlin's shadow still looms large, and that type of pressure is something Brianna has gotten better at handling. Last year's state championships were Brianna's first real taste of championship pressure.

In the preliminary rounds Brianna was comfortable and having fun. But going into the finals, the nervousness and pressure kicked in. As the stress level started going up, late coach Mike Ward stepped in.

"He really calmed me down and kept telling me, 'It's OK, Brianna, you have a chance to medal. This will be fun,' " Leverenz said of Ward, who passed away in January after six state championships and 27 years of coaching at Rincon. "Last year was such an experience. Having Mike there for my first year as my mentor was such great support."

2012 WATCH LIST

Boys

• Jason Alentado, Sr., CF

• J.C. Balserak, Sr., SAL

• Keith Brazzell, So., SAH

• Billy Early, Sr., SAL

• Thomas Golden, Jr., IR

• Matthew Kautz, Jr., CF

• Matt Lujan, So., CF

• Lawrence Muldoon, Sr., SAL

• Craig Simmons, Jr., IR

• Chris Worden, Jr., CDO

Girls

• Sarah Baumann, Sr., CDO

• Maddie Bolin, Jr., IR

• Sara Borendame, Sr., IR

• Cecelia Croman, So., SAL

• Bonnie Diamond, Jr., CF

• Krista Duffield, Jr., CF

• Daniella Emami, Sr., CF

• Brianna Leverenz, So., RIN

• Razilee Luker, Sr., SR

• Kelsey Wuoti, Sr., MV

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