MASON, Ohio – Cooper Hodge can’t wait to experience the electric atmosphere at the USA Swimming Olympic Trials starting Sunday in Omaha, Nebraska.
All eight days are sold out for the competition, which goes through July 3 and will be held at the CenturyLink Center (14,200 estimated capacity).
For Hodge, a 2016 Moeller graduate and University of Wisconsin incoming freshman, the 10-hour drive with his family will be well worth the opportunity.
Hodge is the Ohio high school state record holder in the 200 individual medley. But, he's looking forward to competing at an even higher level this weekend.
“This will be the first time that I am in a meet with every single premier swimmer in the United States and that’s just going to be incredible to see,” said Hodge, who will compete Sunday, June 29 and Thursday June 30.
Hodge, who qualified in the 400 individual medley, 200 individual medley and 200 breaststroke, is one of six current area swimmers in the Mason Manta Rays program who qualified for the Olympic Trials:
- Mason senior Ashley Volpenhein (Class of 2017), qualified in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle. She was the OHSAA Co-Swimmer of the Year last season. She is the high school state record holder in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle.
- Springboro graduate and Louisville incoming freshman Hannah Whiteley qualified in the 100 backstroke and 200 backstroke. She was the OHSAA Co-Swimmer of the Year and this is the second time she will be in the trials (2012). She is the high school state record holder in the 100 backstroke.
- St. Ursula junior Hannah Foster qualified in the 200 individual medley.
- St. Xavier sophomore Jake Foster qualified in the 200 breaststroke. He is one of 14 individuals who are 15 years old at the trials. His 200 breaststroke is also one of the fastest in history for his age. He is a state record holder in multiple events, according to Manta Rays head coach Ken Heis.
- St. Xavier freshman Carson Foster, who attended Sycamore Middle School this past school year, qualified in the 400 individual medley. (Carson is siblings with Jake and Hannah and the family is the only in the country with three swimmers at the trials).
- Carson Foster broke Michael Phelps’ 100 butterfly age group record as a 10-year-old. Foster is the first 14-year-old boy to make the trials cut since 2000, according to Heis. There is only one other 14-year-old boy competing this summer at the trials. Foster won’t turn 14 until October. He credits the club team for helping him to compete at the trials. “I’m just looking to have fun,” said Foster, who will certainly have an eye toward Tokyo in 2020.
There are also three former Manta Rays who compete in college and are qualifiers:
- Dani Barbiea (Missouri/Springboro) qualified in the 50 freestyle
- Zoe Thatcher (Auburn/Mason) qualified in the 400 freestyle and 200 and 400 individual medley
- Sydney Lofquist (Southern California/Ursuline) qualified in the 400 freestyle and 200 and 400 individual medley.
The time standard for each event is incredible. Only about 1,700 swimmers out of the 644,000 (0.3 percent) members in USA Swimming achieve that distinction.
This will be the third time the Manta Rays have sent a group to the trials. This year will be the largest number (four in 2012 and three in 2008).
“It’s really exciting,” Heis said. “It means a lot to not only our program but the bigger part of the city of Mason. The whole city is getting behind them. People are coming up to us and rooting for us. They are really excited to watch and follow these swimmers the next 10 days."
According to Heis, this year is the largest group from any club swim team in Ohio and the largest in the country for a team without a 50-meter facility. The Manta Rays have more 18-and-under swimmers (seven) going to the trials than any other team in Ohio, Heis said.
For Volpenhein, a USA Swimming National Junior Member who represented the country at the World Junior Championships in Singapore last summer, these trials speak volumes about the Manta Rays and the quality of the club team.
"We have a lot of team pride," Heis said. "That's what makes this special group of having six people train here right now. The whole team has helped these six get to this level."
Volpenhein has been a part of the program for 11 years and likes having the support system at the trials.
Volpenhein, who is considering Stanford, Southern California, California-Berkeley, Michigan, Virginia and Texas, can’t wait to compete against other swimmers she’s seen in commercials at the trials.
“I am really excited to experience it,” Volpenhein said. “It’s not the world stage but it’s almost bigger than that. It’s such a big, big meet.”