BILLINGS – Three years ago, Billings star Christina Aragon took her prodigious talents to Stanford, one of the best track and field programs in the country, and is now one of the best middle distance runners in the world. This past May, Ethan Harder chose the University of Texas with the same goal in mind.
The now 18-year-old Harder has proven to be one of the best young swimmers in the country and is the 11th nationally-ranked recruit in his class, according to www.swimswam.com.
“They have the greatest swim program ever – it’s insane,” Harder said of Texas, which has won the past four NCAA Swimming national championships. “And then their academics are also amazing, so it’s the perfect place.”
“There were other schools (interested in Harder). He was basically contacted by every major school,” said Sean Marshall, who has coached Harder at the Billings Aquatic Club the past three seasons. “But once Texas came into play … that’s one of the most storied colleges in swimming. Texas is pretty much the pinnacle.”
Harder won the 200-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke at the 2017 Montana High School Association state swim meet, cruising to victories in the only two events he entered as a sophomore at Billings Senior High. Harder is now home-schooled and competes year-round under Marshall with the BAC.
“He’s one of the hardest workers in practice. That’s all I can ask for, because it sets up the rest of our team culture,” Marshall said. “He’s at Nationals, then we have two other boys that just made Junior Nationals this past year. … It’s really setting up our whole team culture. Kids are kind of understanding on our team, ‘Oh, that’s the next level. We can actually get to that level.’ That’s one of the best things about having a kid like that. You go to practice, he’s working, he’s grinding.”
Harder holds seven Montana State Open records, including the 50, 100 and 200 backstrokes, the 100 and 200 flys, and the 200 and 400 individual medleys.
He recently won the 100 and 200 backstrokes at the Speedo Senior Sectionals in March, while adding a runner-up finish in the 200 individual medley, a third-place in the 400 individual medley and a fourth in the 200 fly. He also won the 200 backstroke in a personal-record time of 1 minute, 43.04 seconds at the USA Speedo Winter Junior Nationals in December.
Harder admits he made the Texas decision with one goal in mind.
“I’m definitely going for the 2020 Olympics in Japan. It’s going to be tough, but I think I can do it,” he said.
“The coach, Eddie Reese, is basically on every Olympic team we take,” said Marshall. “If you want to work your way on to one of those teams, this coach is one of the ones who’s going to give you that best step.”
“It’s good that he’s saying 2020,” Marshall said of Harder. “Obviously, 2020 is just going to be the starting point, but I think 2024 is in play, 2028. He can go as far as he wants.”