WINTER GARDEN Given how competitive club swimming can be in Central Florida and the quality of swimmers who SouthWest Aquatics’ Stars Swim Team is known for churning out, Katie Schorr and Grace Khunduang probably already knew their young careers were heading in the right direction.
But, just in case they didn’t, seeing their name on USA Swimming’s National Age Group Top 10 Lists for the 2014-2015 swimming year probably did the trick.
The lists note the top 10 recorded times of the year, nationally, and the two star Stars combined for six listings. Schorr, 16, was recognized twice, and Khunduang, 12, was recognized a remarkable four times.
“It’s a huge deal (for the girls),” said Justin Correia, the head coach for the Stars. “For us, as a club, it’s really good because it tells us that we are a nationally recognized program. We’re on the right track.”
Schorr, who lives in Ocoee and is a sophomore at Montverde Academy, was recognized in the 100-meter freestyle on both the long course (56.84, eighth-best) and short course (50.20, tied for 10th).
Schorr has been on an upward trajectory ever since she began swimming at SouthWest, which is also where she took her first swim lessons as a toddler. As a freshman for Montverde last fall, she placed fourth in the state in Class 1A in the 50-meter freestyle and second in the state in the 100-meter freestyle.
With high-school swim season currently ongoing and entering the postseason, the Ocoee teen credits much of her success to the work she puts in at the Winter Garden-based facility.
“We all feed off one another at practices. We compete with each other, even though we’re a team, but it’s good (natured),” Schorr said. “(Correia’s coaching style) works a lot for me and helps me out. The environment he creates is competitive but supportive and encouraging. That’s really beneficial.”
Schorr is focused on a state championship in the coming weeks but also is swimming at an elite enough level to where qualifying for the Olympic Trials and the Junior National Team are attainable goals.
“She has really come a long way,” Correia said. “On top of her swimming ability, all the girls on the team know she is the best girl on the team, and they look up to her. … But she’s not one of those girls who likes to boast about how fast she is. She’s very humble.”
Schorr’s talent and work ethic have made her a model swimmer at SouthWest. Bruce Follensbee, a longtime coach at Dr. Phillips High who now works with the Stars’ younger swimmers — including previously working with both Schorr and Khunduang — encourages his swimmers to observe and take note.
“She’s taken it more seriously each and every year,” Follensbee said. “The closer she’s getting to the national cuts, the more she’s putting into it, and the more focus she has. I try to tell my kids to come early … so they can watch the amount of effort she is putting in.”
One of Schorr’s fans at SouthWest is, in fact, Khunduang, who is from Winter Garden.
Both girls have younger sisters who take lessons together, something that has enabled a budding friendship. It is especially beneficial for Khunduang, who gets to interact with a role-model swimmer.
“(Schorr is) really amazing at swimming,” Khunduang said. “She’s really nice and came in one day to talk about swimming (with the middle school-age swimmers).”
Khunduang’s recognized times all came in short-course events, in the breast stroke and medley at distances of 100 and 200 meters. So although she may look up to Schorr, it’s a safe bet that there will soon be girls looking up to her, also.
“The realm of possibilities (for Grace) is pretty huge — she’s doing really, really good for her age,” Correia said. “Her times are very competitive even with kids who are two or three years older than she is right now.”
Khunduang’s achievements are all the more encouraging because she has ample time to improve before competition gets even more intense. For Follensbee, who guided Khunduang for the past three years up until the past two months, he sees a swimmer destined for a big stage.
“We’re hoping she’s going to be an Olympic Trials qualifier,” Follensbee said. “It’s going to (work) out ideally for her, because that will be her senior year (of high school) the next time around. She’s got the potential.”
The combined six NAG times are a record for SouthWest, and with these two working their way up — and inspiring others along the way — they are nice feathers in the cap for the club itself.
“We’re dabbling into world-class swimming, hopefully,” Correia said.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].