Former Spartan swimming standout Ashley Vrieze was spotlighted by a hometown newspaper, The Eureka Reporter, on Thursday, June 5.
Arcata swimmer qualifies for the Olympic trials
By John Magers, The Eureka Reporter
A North Coast swimmer’s recent decision to take up the sport again just paid off in a big way.
Ashley Vrieze, who swam at Arcata High from 1998 to 2001 before she moved on to University of Illinois and San Jose State, has qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Neb., which are set to start later this month,.
Vrieze will compete in the women’s 100-meter backstroke.
Vrieze got her swimming career off the ground at Arcata High where she swam for three years before she went to San Diego to work with the Northcoast Aquatics head coach, Jeff Pease, for her senior year.
Then, after a year swimming at Illinois, she attempted to qualify for the Olympics in 2004 while a member of Northcoast Aquatics, but came up short before enrolling at San Jose State University.
After graduating from SJSU in 2007, Vrieze took some time off from the sport before joining the DeAnza Cupertino Aquatics Club for the 2007-2008 season. It was there that she barely missed out on a qualifying for the Olympic trials in the backstroke by .22 seconds.
Although Vrieze was annoyed at this point that she had twice come so close to fulfilling a lifelong dream, she was not deterred and refused to give up.
“It was frustrating because I was so close. I was a little doubtful,” Vrieze said. “And I didn’t want it to happen again.”
With the help of former SJSU coach Sage Hopkins, in tandem with the guidance of her current coach, Pete Rayovich, Vrieze rediscovered her passion for swimming after her brief hiatus from the sport.
“Two years ago, I never could have imagined being in this position,” Vrieze said. “But when I came back with Rayovich, he worked me to max potential and got me to do the best I could.”
Vrieze continued to train with Rayovich for the Speedo Grand Challenge in Irvine that took place this Memorial Day weekend.
And that’s where things all came together for her, as she finished with a time of 63.41 seconds in the backstroke to easily eclipse the mark of 64.59 the Olympic Team currently requires for qualification for the trials.
Vrieze was pleased that her effort paid off.
“It was overwhelming and I’m so happy. It’s sort of surreal,” Vrieze said. “It’s an honor and I’ve had great coaches. I was inspired by them to continue my career as a swimmer as a collegiate athlete.”
Vrieze was part of a gifted group of local swimmers Paul Mazzarelle coached in 2000 that ended up competing at Junior Nationals, including Byron Stocum and Carly Ross.
Teammate Gina Loechl, who swam with Vrieze for two years, ended up qualifying for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Indianapolis before finishing 43rd in the 100-meter backstroke.
However, it was Vrieze who especially impressed the Humboldt Swim Club president at the time, Jan Ross.
“I’ve seen her swim since she was 10 and I went to a lot of meets with her and Carly,” Jan Ross said of Vrieze. “And she’s a very hard worker and driven to the extreme. I’m really proud of her.”
For now, Vrieze plans on continuing to train for the backstroke and is hoping to do well against the best the country has to offer.
“My main goal right now is to try to make it in into the semifinals,” Vrieze said. “And if I do, I’ll just take it from there and keep doing the best I can. I know have some tough competitors.”