Kaitlyn Swinney

Marie-Claire Schillinger

This summer, the best swimmers in the country will convene in Omaha, NE to vie for the opportunity to represent the United States at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Two Rice University students, sophomore Kaitlyn Swinney and freshman Marie-Claire Schillinger, will be among those competitors. During the Arena Pro Swim this weekend, the Owls secured their spots in the Olympic Trials with qualifying times.

According to Swinney, the qualification is a dream come true.

“I tried to qualify four years ago and missed out,” Swinney said. “So getting it now, it was the most incredible experience of my life. I can’t put into words how awesome it feels to finally do it.”

Swinney posted her qualifying time of 4:54.67 in the 400-meter individual medley last Saturday. Competing alongside some of the best swimmers in the nation, she finished 20th out of 73 swimmers in the morning session of the meet.

Schillinger, meanwhile, finished with a time of 1:11.21 in the 100-meter breaststroke to place 28th out of 72 swimmers. Although she had already achieved an adequate time to compete in the Olympic Trials before coming to Rice, her time was again good enough to earn her the right to go to Omaha. She will compete in two events, both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke.

Billed as the biggest swimming event in the country, the Olympic Trial meet is truly a national stage. Swinney said she is most looking forward to the chance to represent Rice in such a big event.

“I love college swimming because it gives you a chance to represent your school and the people you’re with,” Swinney said. “I’m so excited to be able to be in Nebraska with [Schillinger] and represent my favorite place in the world.”

According to Schillinger, the energy of the crowd and the talent of the swimmers around her will make the meet a memorable experience.

“These meets are very inspirational,” Schillinger said. “We got to watch Katie Ledecky set a world record in the meet this weekend and the whole place erupted. It’s amazing.”

While both swimmers said they are grateful for the chance to participate in the event, they are keeping their expectations for qualification in check. Competing alongside Olympic medalists, professionals and the best collegiate swimmers in the country, Schillinger said that she recognizes that the likelihood of joining the Olympic team is slim.

“You can have a goal to get as close as you can to finals,” Schillinger said. “But as far as the Olympics, this is as close as we are going to get and it’s very exciting.”

Swinney and Schillinger are each enjoying successful seasons as part of the Rice swim team. Swinney has earned two Conference USA swimmer of the week awards, including one this past week, and Schillinger has earned one of her own. They have helped to lead the Owls to a 4-3 record in dual meets and two invitational meet championships. According to Schillinger, the season has been even better than she had hoped.

“Since this is my first year I didn’t really know what to expect,” Schillinger said. “But I liked it even better than swimming for a club or high school team because of the camaraderie the team has here.”

The team’s success, however, cannot be attributed to the swimmers alone. Swinney gave credit to Head Coach Seth Huston for helping her to improve both this season and last. According to Swinney, Huston has made swimming much more enjoyable for her during her time at Rice.

“Coach Huston took me in at the beginning of my freshman year when I was really burned out and helped me find my love for the sport again,” Swinney said. “He’s been very instrumental in my progress here.”

Huston will lead the Owls into their next meet beginning Friday, Jan. 29, at the University of Houston. Rice will compete against Tulane University, the University of Houston and Louisiana State University in the meet. It will be the Owls’ final competition before the Conference USA Championships begin on Feb. 24. According to Schillinger, she and Swinney will be ready to lead the Owls the rest of the way.

“We have one goal after the next,” Schillinger said. “We got Olympic Trials, but now we have to set our next goal. We can’t just stop right here.”