UGA swim signee Peters makes herself at home with title on first day of Bulldog Grand Slam

Stephanie Peters is no stranger to Georgia’s Gabrielsen Natatorium, but it’s safe to say she’s going to be very happy now that it’s her new home pool.

UGA swim signee Peters makes herself at home with title on first day of Bulldog Grand Slam
Chris Starrs

The 18-year-old Peters, who signed with the Georgia women’s swim team last November, won the 1,500-meter freestyle Thursday during the first day of the 2014 Bulldog Grand Slam. She posted a time of 16 minutes, 52.83 seconds, which wasn’t quite as good as her seed time of 16:46.90, but was considerably better than her last performance in Athens.

“I was really pleased,” said Peters, who competes for the Marietta Marlins swim club and graduated from North Paulding this spring. “We’ve been focusing on sprinting at practice lately, so it was a really good swim. We had sectionals here last year and I was 17 seconds faster today than I was last year.”

Thursday’s race was just one of six Peters will be involved in this weekend at the 2014 Grand Slam, which runs through Sunday and will showcase Olympic gold medalists Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Allison Schmitt and Shannon Vreeland. Besides the 1,500 freestyle, Peters will compete in the 50, 100, 200, 400 and 800 freestyle events.

“It’s going to be a busy weekend,” she said.

Tickets for the remaining days’ events range from $5-10 and are available at the Ramsey Center box office.

Peters, whose sister Courtney is a rising senior on the Georgia swim team, is a member of the United States Junior National Team and won a silver medal in the 400 freestyle at last year’s Speedo Junior National Championships. She’s considered one of the tops in the country in the 400, 800 and 1,500 and holds state records in the 1,000, 1,500 and 1,650 freestyle events. She’s also a Scholastic All-American.

Harvey Humphries, acting head coach for Georgia and the head coach of the Athens Bulldog Swim Club (the host team for the Grand Slam) definitely likes what he sees with Peters.

“She looks good in the water and she’s going to be a great addition to the distance group,” Humphries said. “She’s got good speed and she was one of the top 400-meter girls coming out of high school in the whole country and a lot of that came last summer.”

The Lady Bulldogs tout an impressive distance ensemble, led by rising junior Brittany MacLean, who won the 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle events at the NCAAs, setting a new record in the 1,650. She’s joined by Amber McDermott (who finished second at the NCAAs) and Rachel Zilinskas, among others.

Humphries believes Peters’ exposure to some seasoned teammates will only make her better.

“I feel she’s the kind of athlete that will rise to the level of her competition in practice. Those are the kids who come into our program at Georgia and do really well, so we’re excited to watch her race the rest of this weekend and we’re really glad she’s staying in the state.”

The 1,500 is a grueling event, and its myriad laps are certainly not for the faint of heart or mind. But as is the case with many distance swimmers, competitions often offer a bit of a break from the rigors of training. Peters has found training for distance events even more of a challenge due to the dearth of distance competitors on the Marlins.

“We don’t have a lot of distance swimmers on our team, so I train with seven guys and they’ll pace me — they do relay-style while I’m swimming a 1,000 for time,” she said. “They’ll keep me up with my pacing. For meets, I just needed to learn how to relax and control everything because it’s not going to be a 10,000, like some practices are.

She said had little trouble finding a groove on Thursday as she utilized a familiar relaxation technique of singing a song in her head. Thursday’s selection? Boy band IM5’s “Disney Dudez 3,” a mashup of Disney tunes.

“I’m a big Disney person,” she said.

While it’s somewhat unnerving for an up-and-coming competitor to share the deck with some of the biggest names in swimming, Peters is able to take it all in stride and is moving rapidly toward the idea that she belongs in the company of the best.

“It’s confidence-boosting to know you can swim with these people and you’re on their level,” she said. “It exposes you to different things. When I was 15, I was at this kind of event and I was very nervous because of all the big names. But now I’m kind of used to it. I think it’s cool to watch all of them swim.”

Peters was followed by Rachel Mueller (17:07.98), Julia Durmer (17:08.27), Anna Jahns (17:12.90) and Caitlyn McHugh (17:18.96).

In the only other event of the day, Cody Beckemeyer won the men’s 800 in a time of 8:13, followed by Garrett Powell of UGA and the Athens Bulldogs Swim Club (8:21.42), Jake Gibbons (8:28.37), Brennan Day (8:30.75) and Taylor Delk (8:37.01).

Other Athens Bulldogs competing in the 800 included Robert Wylie (seventh place, 8:43.04), Ian Hentenaar (10th place, 8:58.86), Aidan Brook (9:00.01) and Fear Churchwell (14th place, 9:08.05).

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