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Monday, June 7, 2021

Venema, Tafuto, Kurakin, Slaton and Brison Win Sunday Night to Punch First Tickets to Wave II Olympic Trials


Venema, Tafuto, Kurakin, Slaton and Brison Win Sunday Night to Punch First Tickets to Wave II Olympic Trials

Last summer, when the Ivy League canceled all 2020 fall and early winter sports due to COVID, Nikki Venema scrambled to find somewhere to train to continue to pursue her Olympic dream.

She returned to her club team, and thanks to that opportunity, Venema has qualified for Wave II Olympic Trials – Swimming next week in Omaha. 

The Princeton sophomore took top honors Sunday night in the 100 butterfly Sunday night, edging Lexi Cuomo 59.24-1:00.06. Cuomo also advanced to compete in Wave II. 

“I’m really grateful that they’ve (club team) kept me for another year,” Venema said. “But it’s really tough when you’re swimming alone. I’m just so happy to be here and swimming fast. And I love the sport so much. It’s just an awesome time.”

While Venema earned for her first Wave II event, two swimmers who quailed for events earlier in the meet added another event to their Wave II schedules Sunday evening. 

Malia Rausch (Austin Swim Club), who won the 200 freestyle Saturday night, also qualified Sunday in the 400 free. Ruasch's 4:15.04 finished second to winner Sally Tafuto's (Ohio State) 4:15.19, after Tafuto blew past the competition over the final 40 meters for the victory.

“I always come back pretty hard, so I was just making sure that I put myself in the race from the beginning and then sprinted the last 100,” Tafuto said. “I always just try to swim smart the first half, and then just catch people if I can.”

After qualifying second Friday night in the 200 fly, Cal's Colby Mefford won the 200 backstroke Sunday evening, knocking almost two seconds off of his personal-best time. 

He was fourth at the wall and came back strong over the final 50 meters to edge Bearcat Aquatics' Blake Hanna 1:59.85-2:00.11 to gain a second event. 

“That’s kind of what I like to do; I like to have the audience worry a little bit, let my family worry a little bit and then turn it around as best as I can,” Mefford said with a laugh. “I was really struggling coming up with a plan because I was really beat after this morning, really tired. I think after scratching the 400 free (Sunday night), that gave me a little bit of extra energy and got me a little more excited for this finish.”

In the men’s 400 free, it was Ivan Kurakin, of Tritons Aquatic Club and UC San Diego, who led from start to finish, holding off runner-up Brice Barrieault 3:56.17-3:56.51 to advance to Wave II competition. 

“It was definitely a tough race, but I’ve been working for it, so I’m really happy to do it,” Kurakin said. “I just wanted to do the same thing I did this morning. Just take it out. I knew the guys were going to come back for me, and that’s just the way I had to do it. I felt a little better than I did this morning. This morning was a bit rough, so I’m happy with that.”

After being third at the wall, Micah Slaton came on strong over the last 20 meters to win the 100 fly. His time of 53.02 held on to edge Aaron Sequeira (53.08) and extend his stay in Omaha for another week. 

“The past year has been tough,” Slaton said. “Obviously, I didn’t get to end the college career (University of Missouri) the way I wanted with NCAAs getting canceled and COVID. During that time, I took some time to reflect on what I wanted to do, and it just didn’t feel like it was over.

“I really wanted to end it here. I was still taking classes, picked up two jobs and still kept swimming, wanting to get here. It’s all been perseverance. I really had to make a lot of things work this past year. The coaches were incredibly helpful with that.”

In the women’s 200 back, Dynamo Swim Club's Sophie Brison swam a personal-best 2:13.21 to beat Bayley Stewart, of Fort Collins Area Swim Team. Stewart also qualified for Wave II with her second-place time of 2:13.35.

Monday marks the final day of Wave I competition with the 200 individual medley kicking things off followed by the 50 freestyle, 200 breaststroke and 1500 freestyle events. 

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