BILLINGS – Ethan Harder finally has some company.
“The past couple times I’ve been going by myself, just me and (coach Sean Marshall),” said Harder, “but now I get to go with them and it’s just so much more fun. It makes you more motivated to go fast.”
Harder just finished competing in his sixth USA Swimming Junior Nationals meet two weekends ago, bringing home second-, third- and fourth-place medals. But unlike his first five trips, he got to travel with two other Billings Aquatic Club qualifiers – Jack Leuthold and Peter Thompson.
“Walking in Texas’ pool was obviously pretty crazy,” said Leuthold about his first sight of the Speedo Winter Junior Nationals West meet. “I wouldn’t say overwhelming, but definitely exciting.”
“A way higher intensity level,” echoed Thompson. “Higher competition obviously. The nerves were high in the whole building. It was really cool.”
Thompson, just a sophomore at Billings Senior, and Leuthold didn’t seem to show any nerves in their 1,650 yard freestyle event, commonly known as ‘The Mile.’ Thompson dropped 20 seconds off his personal-best time to finish sixth, and Leuthold dropped more than 23 seconds to finish fourth in the entire country.
“Usually the mile hurts pretty bad most of the time, but this time it felt pretty good,” Leuthold said. “The medal was definitely a bonus. That was a great experience.”
“It’s my favorite race by far,” said Thompson. “I definitely didn’t think that’s how the first one was going to go. I was going for the experience and to do some fast racing.”
It’s an experience that likely wouldn’t be possible without B.A.C. head coach Sean Marshall.
“The training has been a lot better, more intense, a lot more structured,” Thompson said. “He’s given us a lot more opportunities.”
“I think the best part about him is, he really walks us through what the future looks like,” said Leuthold. “Whether that be college swimming or not, he definitely helps us take that next step.”
For Harder, that’s a scholarship at the University of Texas, the No. 1 program in the country, while Leuthold, a senior at Billings Central, has already taken visits to Utah and Wisconsin, with Ohio State still to come. And it’s still hard for even them to believe it.
“Some of these times are so far in front, and there’s so much time-drop, it seems impossible to drop that much time,” admitted the 18-year-old Harder. “But it happens.”
Harder has already qualified for the Phillips 66 USA Nationals meet next summer, with every top swimmer in the country eligible to compete, while Leuthold and Thompson are just seconds away. Their next chance comes in March.