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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Swimming superstar: Freshman makes school history with state meet win in the 100-meter fly

Meher Bhatnagar
Freshman Kelsey Zhang gets ready to dive into the water at Clovis West High School during the CIF state championship.

Freshman Kelsey Zhang left her mark in the school’s athletic history when she won the state CIF race in the 100m butterfly with a time of 52.94 on May 13. She defeated 17 qualifying swimmers for the victory.

She was also part of a relay team with freshman Emma Geng, junior Meher Bhatnager and senior Zeynep Tokuz who raced in the 200-yard medley relay and finished 30th out of 40 teams participating in the preliminary round.

In addition to her recent CIF championship victory, she was nominated for athlete of the week by Mercury News on May 12. 

Eight days before the state meet, Zhang had also won first place in CCS with times of 1:59:03 for the 200-m individual medley, in which swimmers compete with each of four strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle) for 50m, and 52.62 seconds for the 100m butterfly.

“I think we’re all really happy for her and really proud of her,” assistant coach Kristen Thomson said. “Obviously, she’s worked so hard for this her entire life.”

Zhang’s records indicate the continuation of an illustrious career, marked by her qualification in 2022 for the upcoming Olympics trials with a 2:13.18 in the 200-meter butterfly. Even so, Zhang’s goal at the CIF state championship was not to win, but rather to enjoy the time with her team members.

“I was at States [CIF state championship] to have fun and talk to my friends that I haven’t seen for a long time, which was nice,” Zhang said. “I was just mostly happy for my relay team that we made it to the States.”

Zhang started swimming at age 5 at Saratoga Star Aquatics (SSTA).  She then switched to PEAK swim team when she was around 6. She swam at the Santa Clara Swim Club from 6 to 10 years old, and switched to Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics (PASA) four years ago.

At just 14, she made it into the Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics team’s National Group and swam a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials. Since then, Zhang has been training hard to improve her skills even further.

She practices six days a week, with 6-hour practices each day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday — each starting at 6 a.m. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, she starts at the same time but instead practices for three hours at a time. This often meant that she couldn’t make it to many of the practices held at the school and mostly competed at meets.

Zhang and her PASA team take a picture together in the pool.

Because of the closeness Zhang feels with PASA, she feels more comfortable swimming with her peers and always feels like she has a strong support system behind her. 

“In practice, we help each other, and if it’s a hard set, we can say ‘Oh, you can do it!,’” she said. “I feel like we can also learn more from each other.” 

Zhang recounts a meet when she had felt extremely discouraged after being disqualified from a relatively large meet she was hoping to win. She said her teammates helped bring her spirit up immediately.

“All my teammates came over and gave me hugs and told me it’s okay and stuff, and then they comforted me and brought me snacks and food,” Zhang said.

In addition to growing with the family in her club team, Zhang has also found that she has grown in regards to her personal training. When Zhang was younger, she remembers that her father would take care of most of the logistics, such as when and what she trains. 

Now, however, it’s up to her to take initiative and take care of her developing skills on her own. For example, if she ever feels like she needs more practice in a certain area (for example to train her arms), she might decide to go to the gym to train instead.

As Zhang focuses her swimming in high school, she aspires to continue swimming in college and possibly further. While she is still unsure of which college to attend, as college sports rankings are liable to change, she plans to attend one with a strong swim team.

“I want to get into the college for swimming, and I hope I will still be able to pursue my dream of going to the Olympics after college,” Zhang said.

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