Nobody could call Corona del Mar High senior Hollace Barden a latecomer to swimming.
She's been swimming since she was 4 years old, always having fun with it. In the summers, she has been a staple for the Newport Hills Killer Whales neighborhood swim team.
She made the varsity swim team at CdM as a freshman. But Barden was also playing water polo and volleyball, and soon she had to make a choice.
"It was way too much," Barden said Tuesday from Kusadasi, Turkey, where she and her family were in the midst of a 10-day European vacation. "I had to decide on one of them. I just chose swimming, because I thought it was the most fun."
She joined the Irvine-based Aquazot Swim Club, one of the most competitive club teams in the country, at the start of her junior year. Now a latecomer to club swimming, you could definitely call Barden that.
Brynne Wong and Jared Namba are other talented CdM swimmers who swim at Aquazot. Wong has been swimming there since she was 5 years old, and Namba for several years as well.
Barden was almost 18 years old when she joined the club. It was a big change, jumping up to swimming as many as 10,000 yards a day.
"Since I was the new kid, I wanted to impress everybody I guess," she said. "You try real hard the first couple of days, until you're wiped out. After the first week, you're so ready for Sunday so you can have a break. But I knew Brynne, and I was already meeting new friends that I liked a lot.
"The people kept me in there through the hard times, I guess," Barden added with a laugh.
She can definitely laugh about it now. Everything has worked out for Barden. She has committed to swim next year at UC Santa Barbara.
In high school, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week is one of the most reliable freestyle swimmers around. Barden showed it April 3 in the big Battle of the Bay meet against rival Newport Harbor.
She won the 50 and 100-yard freestyles, and also swam the anchor leg for the winning 200 and 400 free relay teams. In the latter event, CdM needed a first and third-place finish to win the meet. Pippa Saunders, Ally McCormick, Brynne Wong and Barden provided the first place, touching in a CIF Southern Section Division 1 automatic time of 3:34.70. Soon after, they watched Eliza Britt, Grace Morgan, Alex Namba and Natalie Wong finish third to clinch the victory.
Barden said she and her teammates are aiming for the school record in the 400 free relay. It is a 3:32.91, set by Jordan Anae, Danielle Lavery, Lexie Shue and current assistant coach Stephanie Gabert in 2005. Barden already is on the CdM record board once, as Brynne Wong, Tori Gabert, Ally McCormick and Barden have the school record in the 200 free relay (1:38.98).
Barden could make it in another event, the 100 free. She said her personal-best in the event is 51.76 seconds, which came in a club meet. By the end of the season, she said she wants to be at least low 51s in the event, and finish top eight in CIF.
The school record in the event is 51.94 seconds. It was set last year by McCormick, another of the Sea Kings' swift freestyle swimmers.
CdM Coach Doug Volding said that Barden, who also swims the butterfly, has always had a lot of potential. Volding is the one who gave her an award at the swim banquet her freshman year, the "Impact Player" award.
"I just remember her being a natural athlete," Volding said. "I knew she was going to be something pretty special."
The day after the Battle of the Bay last week, Barden swam at Woodbridge. There she finished second in the 100 and 200 freestyle races, but she couldn't complain. The first-place finisher in the 100 was Warriors freshman phenom Daniela Georges, Barden's club teammate.
"I like it a lot," Barden said of racing against club teammates. "It's a lot of pressure, but it's more fun pressure because you know all the people you're racing against. You're with all of your friends, so it's going to be fun."
Her young brothers Richie, a junior, and Jack, a freshman, are also involved in water polo and swimming for CdM. Hollace may be more dedicated now, but she said she continues to have fun.
"It's more fun at the high school meets for me," she said. "I feel like there's a lot less pressure on the individual; it's more of a team thing. But there's a different kind of pressure, because everyone expects the club swimmers to basically get first every time. It doesn't happen."
For Barden lately, it's been close enough.
Born: Oct. 8, 1993
Hometown: Newport Beach
Coach: Doug Volding
Favorite food: Pasta
Favorite movie: "The Proposal"
Favorite athletic moment: Being on the CdM 4x50 butterfly relay team that won last year at the Millikan Southern Section relays. Natalie Wong, Pippa Saunders, Barden and Brynne Wong touched in a meet-record 1:44.97.
Week in review: Barden won the 50 and 100-yard freestyle events and swam anchor on both winning freestyle relays as the CdM girls edged Newport Harbor, 86-84, in the Battle of the Bay on April 3.