By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — She has yet to compete in a swim meet for UVa, and freshman Rachel Naurath already has been named to the U.S. national team for 2010-11.
“That’s a pretty big deal,” Virginia coach Mark Bernardino said, then quickly amended his statement.
“That’s a real big deal.”
Naurath was named to the U.S. team in the 200-meter butterfly. She’s not the only Cavalier who was so honored recently. Senior Scot Robison, the most valuable swimmer at last season’s ACC men’s championships, also was named to the U.S. team, in the 100-meter freestyle.
Former UVa great Fran Crippen made the U.S. team, too. He also was recently named USA Swimming’s male open water swimmer of the year for 2010.
Naurath and Robison earned spots on the U.S. team with strong performances at the ConocoPhillips National Championships at Irvine, Calif., in August. Naurath swam the 200 butterfly is 2:09.65; Robison, the 100 free is 49.36.
The six fastest swimmers in each event are selected for the women’s and men’s national teams, Bernardino said. And for a college team to place two swimmers on the U.S. squad?
“I’m not going to say it’s a rare thing, but it’s not commonplace,” Bernardino said. “It’s such a difficult team to make.
“There are no age restrictions. So a large segment of the athletes that are selected are professional swimmers, are professional athletes. For a college swimmer, it’s an outstanding accomplishment, it truly is.”
In 2008, Robison qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 100 butterfly, 100 free and 200 free.
The next summer, he swam for the United States — Bernardino was the team’s head coach — at the World University Games in Belgrade, Serbia. Robison anchored the team that won the 400 free relay and earned silver medals in the 200 free and 800 free relay.
Robison is expected to compete at the world championships next summer in Shanghai, China.
“This is probably the most serious meet in preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games and 2012 USA Olympic Trials,” Bernardino said. “USA Swimming wants the athletes who they believe are most likely going to be finalists at the United States Olympic Team Trials to compete internationally and learn what the pressures and the intensity and the focus that’s required in those types of meets is all about.”
Robison is from Charlotte, N.C. As a UVa junior, he earned All-America status in seven events. At the ACC championships in Chapel Hill, N.C., Robison won the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle. He also was a member of all four of UVa’s winning relay teams.
“In Scot’s case, he’s had some international experience,” Bernardino said, “so he’s now taking his game to the next level.
“In essence, the World University Games team was the USA’s B team. Now, several of those athletes have advanced over the course of the last year and are on this team, the national A team.
“For Rachel, she’s been on some national junior teams. This is her first trip into the big time of swimming. I suspect she’ll have an opportunity to compete this summer, I hope, on the World University Games team.”
Naurath, who’s from Goochland County, graduated from Collegiate School. She starred for the powerful NOVA Aquatics program coached by Geoff Brown. Like Robison, Naurath competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2008.
“We knew she was an extraordinary talent,” Bernardino said. “We’ve been watching her swim since she was 12 years old. And she’s competed in numerous United States Swimming meets that were held in this facility. We’ve seen her at numerous meets throughout the state of Virginia, and we knew she was a special talent.”
Naurath joined a special program at the University. Both the men’s and women’s teams won ACC titles last season, and for the first time in school history each finished in the top 10 at the NCAA championships in the same year.
For the men, the ACC championship was their third straight and 11th in 12 years. For the women, the ACC title was their third in a row and fifth in eight years.
Training alongside elite swimmers such as Naurath and Robison can only help their teammates at UVa, Bernardino believes.
“It has to elevate their game, it has to elevate their mindset, it has to elevate their work ethic,” he said. “It has to give them tremendous confidence knowing that on a daily basis they’re competing with and against some of the best swimmers in the world.”
The NCAA considers swimming a winter sport, but Virginia opens the season Oct. 11 against the University of Florida in Gainesville. The Gators are the reigning NCAA women’s champions. Florida’s men finished fifth at the NCAAs last season.
“We like to open up with a meet that gets everybody’s attention and everybody’s focus,” Bernardino said. “I think Florida feels the same way.”
Of the Cavaliers’ prospects for 2010-11, Bernardino said, “I’m very pleased with what we’ve done thus far this season. It’s very, very early in the training cycle, but I think we’ve done some wonderful things. I think our athletes are at a higher level of fitness at this stage of the season than they were a year ago, and that’s exciting.”