In a pool where many first-years are just treading water, Kat Kranjc is swimming circles.
The Whistler SeaWolves alumnus, who is in her rookie season with the University of Western Ontario swim team, qualified for nationals in the 50-metre freestyle at the Mustangs' home meet in early December.
She'll head to the Ontario capital for the U Sports Swimming Championships hosted by the University of Toronto in February.
The 18-year-old Whistlerite said she was close to the qualifying mark at her inaugural meet, the Fairweather Division Championships, which boosted her motivation to get to Toronto.
"The first meet I swam, I had no idea I was even close to it and in two events, I was 0.01 and 1.1 off of (the qualifying) time," she said. "That was a pretty big jump for me and I didn't know that was even possible. We had a meet the weekend after and I focused on those events. In the first event, I just missed it by 0.04 and I was like, 'OK, I have to get my head in the game and get it on this one.' I was a little bit tired, but I felt like I had more energy in the pool than I usually do."
Kranjc recalled that she had to wait about 20 gut-wrenching minutes for results to see if she had cracked the necessary time. She added she appreciated the support of several teammates who were keeping an eye on the clock with bated breath.
"I didn't even know if I qualified or not, but it felt like a pretty decent swim," she said. "The whole team was around me, not sure if I was going to qualify. My coaches were focused on the other swimmers because they were still racing, since there's about 50 of us.
"We were all standing at the board, waiting for it to get caught up, and they were all standing behind me."
Kranjc won a pair of silver medals at the home meet, and while she hopes to earn some hardware on the national stage, acknowledges it may be a couple years down the line that she establishes herself as a serious contender.
"I'll hopefully shave off some more time," she said. "I don't know if I'll podium, I'll probably have to shave off quite a bit more time to do that. But if I train with one of the girls that can podium, there's the possibility I could."
Kranjc explained she hasn't changed anything with her technique or approach in the pool — the difference-maker has been the blood, sweat and tears she's put in since arriving in the fall.
"It's a lot more hours in the pool than I'm used to. A lot more weightlifting. It's a lot more hard work and dedication that you have to put in," she said, noting she spends about 20 hours a week in the pool plus another six in the weight room. "The hard work in training has really paid off and I've shaved several seconds off of my time.
"It's just the hard work that's been put into it that I've been able to swim a good time and qualify," she added, noting it's uncommon for rookie swimmers to make nationals.
Coming from a smaller club, Kranjc noted it's been a different experience making the leap to university competition. She noted she and Carleton swimmer Jacob Spierings were a few years older than many of their teammates here in Whistler, whereas now she is similar in age and experience to her fellow student-athletes.
"It's different at the club level because you have maybe six people cheering you on and at this, you basically have everyone on your team who's not competing in your event," she said. "You feel more of the vibe of being in the sport."
Kranjc noted that while it wasn't hard to narrow down Western as her Canadian favourite, she was weighing options to head to school in the United States. With a number of good options, she said, she chose in a more arbitrary fashion.
"The team was a lot more competitive than other teams in Canada and I didn't really know where I wanted to go between teams in the States and Western. The deadline came and Western's deadline happened to be first, so I just hit 'Accept,'" she recalled with a chuckle.
On the academic side of things, Kranjc is studying business "and loving it." She's finding that while the coursework is time-consuming, it's not overly difficult at this point.
"It's not that hard, but it's just a lot of work," she said. "The amount (of time) that swimming takes away, you have to find time to make it up."