All eyes are on the swimmers as they step onto the starting block. The water is calm and the scent of chlorine fills the air. The crowd waits anxiously for the start of the race. The official picks up the microphone and instructs the swimmers to take their marks. A loud bang rings throughout the natatorium as the swimmers leap from their blocks and the race is underway.
The race is close with the top swimmers being neck and neck; parents and teammates are yelling and encouraging their friends and children. On the last lap of the 200-yard freestyle, one of the swimmers begins to pull away. The swimmers slam their hands and the natatorium erupts with cheers. Connor Stirling just became the Arizona state champion for the 200-yard freestyle.
Stirling, now a freshman at BYU, will be a significant asset to the men’s swim team. Prior to joining the men’s team at BYU, Stirling qualified for the Olympic trials in the 50-meter freestyle.
“He was probably one of the fastest sprinters in the country last year with his times,” BYU head coach John Brooks said.
Stirling was born in San Jose, California, but moved to Cave Creek, Arizona, where his swimming career took off. He attended Cactus Shadows High School in Arizona and became a state champion in the 200-yard freestyle and placed second in the 100-yard freestyle his senior year.
“Connor is one of the best racers I have ever seen. He is relentless and he has no fear when he races. That is the thing that makes him so good,” Stirling’s high school coach Nate Morre said in April.
The Cougars landed a highly sought-after swimmer. The 23rd ranked swimmer in the nation was heavily recruited by 10 colleges, including BYU. Seven of the 10 colleges that recruited Stirling were nationally ranked in the top 25; BYU is not one of those seven colleges. However, the environment and culture at BYU eventually won Stirling over.
“BYU was the best well-rounded academically, swimming-wise and spiritual. No other school brought all those together and were able give me that,” Stirling said.
It can be difficult for BYU to land high profile athletes. The environment at BYU is different than every other university with the spirituality, the large emphasis on religion and especially the Honor Code. But it was this environment that Stirling was looking for according the Brooks.
Stirling’s recruitment wasn’t without its challenges. He initially had some concerns about the way that the swimmers trained. Brooks worked with Stirling throughout the recruiting process and was able to resolve his issues.
Stirling joins a men’s team that boasts some of the fastest swimmers in the nation. All-American senior Jake Taylor will provide Stirling competition during practice and will help him to improve. Taylor, who also qualified for the Olympic trials, is one of the fastest swimmers Stirling has ever competed against. He said Taylor is able to do things in the water that he has never seen before.
“He’s a great mentor and he’s such a nice guy. He’s helped me grow so much in just the month and a half I’ve been here,” Stirling said.
Stirling’s goal is to qualify for the NCAA championship at the end of the year in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle. There is still a lot of swimming left in Stirling’s first season at BYU, but he is poised to accomplish great things. After the season is over, Stirling will prepare to compete at the Olympic trials next summer.