Alex Sumner talks about her comfort with the IU Natatorium like it’s just another neighborhood pool.
It’s only been the site of 13 U.S. Olympics trials and some of the fastest swimming the world has ever seen. But Sumner, a senior at Episcopal Academy, doesn’t flinch in saying that by now she’s probably raced in every lane at the storied pool, its hallowed waters a requisite stop on an elite summer calendar.
This week, the reigning Daily Times Girls Swimmer of the Year admits, will be a little different, as Sumner represents the U.S. for the first time internationally at the World Junior Championships.
Sumner will swim Friday in the 200-meter backstroke at a meet that got underway Wednesday. Sumner has been in Indianapolis since Sunday to prepare.
It’s her third time this summer in Indy, the site of her most attention-grabbing swim: Finishing fifth at the U.S. Championships in June to nab a junior worlds berth, behind 15-year-old phenom Regan Smith.
Sumner also finished 47th in the 200 individual medley, 48th in the 100 back and 61st in the 400 IM at that meet. Her comfort in the IU water, then, is backed by potent evidence.
“I think it definitely helps me have more confidence knowing I’m swimming in a pool I’ve swum a lot of great races in,” Sumner said. “Especially the 200 back, this was the pool I swam in at nationals to get here. It would’ve been cool to have gone somewhere foreign for this meet, but I think it’s cool for us USA athletes to have it in front of home fans.”
The acclimation is arguably more vital to backstrokers, who rely on visual cues to count strokes and gauge turns. The familiar ceiling is a particular boon for Sumner.
The two-time All-Delco, whose summer travels included a meet in Vancouver with the junior national team, sees the appeal of getting to travel abroad for the meet (five previous iterations, dating to 2006, have visited Rio; Monterrey, Mexico; Lima, Peru; Dubai and Singapore). But the recent California Berkeley commit is also eager to wear the stars and stripes in front of a partisan crowd.
She also will swim knowing that she’s achieved the high end of her goals for the summer, between sealing her college future at a certified national power with a sterling academic record and qualifying for the highest-level meet she realistically hoped for.
“For me, this was the high end because there’s a lot of competition in backstroke right now,” she said. “It’s one of the most competitive events on the junior team, one of the ones that has the most girls who qualified for the junior team. Going into (nationals), it wasn’t sure I was going to make it, but it had been one of the goals for the year. Once I got to nationals, I just focused on having a good race and not worried about placement or anything like that.”