Truckee swimmer O’Connell bound for Biola University
When Truckee High swimmer Arek O’Connell “sneaked off” from a campus tour to meet Eddie Shepard his junior year, the Biola University swim coach sent him away with little assurance.
“He basically said I had to join a club team year-round,” O’Connell said, recalling his inquiry about swimming for the college.
“Swimming on a club team is how you get (exposure). I didn’t swim club, so I had to put myself out there.”
So he did, becoming a member of the Reno Aquatic Club the summer before his senior year. He stayed in contact with Shepard, updating the coach with his times from recent events.
“He was pleased that I joined club team,” O’Connell said. “It showed that I was taking the sport seriously.”
In December O’Connell received a letter of acceptance to Biola. Better yet, he was granted a scholarship that covers the majority of his tuition.
Ensured of a spot on the Biola team, and in top shape from his club experience, O’Connell entered his senior season as confident as ever. The results followed.
At the Northern 4A Regional Swimming Finals, O’Connell captured a pair of first-place finishes in the 50 and 100 free ” his best events. He set personal-best marks in both, posting a time of 21.68 in the 50 free and 47.94 in the 100 free.
The North’s No. 1 seed at State, O’Connell placed fourth in each of his events with times of 22.17 and 48.56, respectively. Southern Nevada swimmers swept the podium.
“Arek knows how to race,” said Vicky Dewey, O’Connell’s head coach at Truckee his junior and senior years. “He has good focus and the will to win. He’s very competitive.”
Even more so, O’Connell said, after swimming with the Reno Aquatic Club.
“It helped me significantly. It was the reason I was able to win zones,” he said.
“I had so much more endurance. It was a huge advantage, a huge boost ” not only for this (past) season but at the next level.”
Dewey has little doubt her standout swimmer will make the cut at Biola, a competitive member of the NAIA.
“I think he has a lot of potential skill to be tapped into,” Dewey said. “If he has the right coach in college he can go a long way.”
He has his sights set high, too, as O’Connell said his goal is to make the Olympic Trials cut for the 2012 Games. Already, his personal-best times in both the 50 and 100 free are just three-tenths of a second off the Biola school record.
Looking back at his high school career, O’Connell said the memory of defeating Northern Nevada’s fastest 4A swimmers stands out most.
“I’m very satisfied with what I did. I actually beat all the Reno kids this year,” he said, adding that he swam with many of them on his club team.
At Biola ” touted on its brochures as the “safest place in L.A.,” even though it’s in La Mirada ” O’Connell plans to major in Christian Education, with plans to get into church ministry some day.
Dewey, for one, believes in him.
“Arek is a great leader,” she said. “There’s no doubt that he has that. I’m going to miss him next year.”