Katy Campbell's consistency pays dividends for Spartans

Katy Campbell's signature event, the 500-yard freestyle, is a test of endurance requiring stamina, timing and above all, staying power.

A study in consistency, the 2012 La Cañada High graduate's recently completed high school swimming career could be memorialized in much the same terms.

In her four years as a Spartan, Campbell won four Rio Hondo League titles in the 500 freestyle. Lest anyone try to pigeonhole her as a distance specialist, she also won her fourth straight league title in the 200 freestyle in May.

But the crowning achievement of Campbell's La Cañada tenure is undoubtedly her four-year reign as a CIF Southern Section divisional champion in the 500 freestyle, an accomplishment only four other swimmers in Southern Section history can claim.

"Being a part of La Cañada's team has been such an amazing experience," Campbell says. "I've met such great people, I've had great coaches, I've made lifelong friends and this school is so supportive of me and my swimming.

"This school has given me so much and this sport has given me so much, so it's just an amazing team I've been a part of."

Campbell's dramatic come-from behind win in the 500 freestyle at the CIF Southern Section Division I Swimming and Diving championships at Riverside Aquatics Center on May 12 capped her four-peat, the latter two of which were won in Division I after the Spartans were moved up from Division II for the 2011 season. With no Masters Meet held this season, that race, which she won in 4 minutes 42.83 seconds, the fourth-fastest mark in the nation this year, was also the final individual race of her high school career.

"It was definitely one of the highlights of my season," Campbell says of winning the CIF title in the 500 freestyle. "I've had such a great year being team captain. My team was so amazing this year and I've had so many great times with them, but that was one of the highlights."

For standing the test of time, turning back all challengers and leaving as a champion at the top of her game, Campbell was unanimously voted 2012 All-Area Girls' Swimmer of the Year by the sportswriters and editors of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader, Pasadena Sun and La Cañada Valley Sun for the second straight year.

Campbell's junior season, in which she set two individual and one relay record in league and won the 500 freestyle and took second in the 200 freestyle in her Division I finals debut before winning both events at Masters, set the bar high for her senior year.

"I knew what she had accomplished before, I was told by all the parents and everyone, 'You can always count on Katy,'" first-year La Cañada Coach Kristen Dronberger says. "It made life a lot easier for me.

"She's a beast, she does not want to lose ever. Nobody does, but she swims to win and it's awesome. There's nobody in her league and nobody in CIF can compete with her, especially in the 500 [freestyle]."

Campbell was away from the team for portions of the season training for the 2012U.S. Olympic TeamTrials, but emerged back on the scene in force late in the year.

Although the Spartans lost their league co-title to South Pasadena, La Cañada was a winner in seven of the 11 events in the deciding dual meet against the Tigers on April 26 and Campbell had a hand in four of them. In addition to wins in the 200 and 500 freestyle that had become near automatic, Campbell paced the 200- and 400-freestyle relay teams to victories.

Campbell also helped the Spartans' 200-freestyle relay team to a win, as she left the league finals meet at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center on May 5 with three total titles in tow.

Endurance has never been a problem for Campbell, who swims the 1-mile freestyle on her club team and has referred to the 500 freestyle as "a sprint."

Yet even the confidence of a three-time champion wasn't enough to keep Campbell from feeling some jitters going into the Division I 500 freestyle final this year.

"I was nervous because I know all those swimmers, we all swim against each other and we're all friends," Campbell says. "Knowing that and knowing how hard each of them train, I couldn't go in confident just because I was all nerves.

"I try to drop the nerves sometimes, but nerves help me swim, too. You're not really thinking about how nervous you are when you're swimming, you're more focusing on swimming your best race and swimming to win. When you're in the water, you don't think about anything else other than swimming, which is a really cool feeling."

With Campbell stuck in second for nearly the entire race behind Woodbridge's Daniela Georges and seemingly having her hands full holding off Megan Rankin of University to avoid falling into third, the four-peat looked like a long shot as the race neared its last four turns.

But Campbell turned out to be far from finished. She closed the gap quickly with a well-timed surge and took the lead entering the final lap before holding off Georges by 1.17.

"Me and my coach had been practicing all year on back-half swimming, so I knew it was there," Campbell says. "When I was ready to make my next move, I just kind of went to my legs and worked on my kick and making sure everything was good and then I just kind of went for it.

"It was just kind of surreal, the whole thing. I don't think I really comprehended it until after the meet was over. I was just like, 'Oh, wow.' I had to get my head back in the game because we had a relay, so I didn't really realize I had won until after the swim meet."

Campbell barely gave a thought to her historic win before jumping right back into competition mode to lead the 400-freestyle relay team of Sarah Olson, Rachel Wong and sister Samantha Campbell in the consolation heat to close the meet.

According to Dronberger and several fellow Spartans, that dedication to the team was what really made Katy Campbell shine as a team captain and role model beyond even her vast talent.

"She is really supportive of everyone, she wants everyone to succeed as much as she wants herself to succeed," Samantha Campbell says. "She's just a really good teammate."

Wong says that Katy Campbell never failed to line the pool deck cheering loudest for her teammates even after her own races had concluded. It, in turn, made it easy to root for Campbell.

"I was really proud of her," Wong says. "I was really happy when she pulled through and got that win [in the 500 freestyle].

"She really motivated me to go faster."

Campbell is bound for UCLA in the fall, but her summer was marked by her Olympic Trials debut at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, where she nearly cracked the top 30 among the best swimmers in the nation by placing 31st in the preliminary heat of the 800-meter freestyle.

"It's such an amazing opportunity to go and try out for the Olympic team," Campbell says. "It's been one of my dreams since I was a little girl and being able to go and actually try out and swim against some of the greatest swimmers in the country is a real honor."

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