Kristen Vredeveld, 15, poses for a portrait in the Baylor School pool. Vredeveld recently swam the fastest time ever for her age group in the 50-yard freestyle. Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Baylor School sophomore swimmer Kristen Vredeveld spent last week’s spring break visiting relatives in Florida, which included a trip to the beach and kayaking in the Everglades.
There were several stints of long hours in the car, which enabled her to soak in what she had accomplished the preceding week at the National Club Swimming Association’s Junior National Meet in Orlando. On March 19, Vredeveld swam the 50-yard freestyle in 22.17 seconds, the fastest time ever for a 15- or 16-year-old girl in the United States.
“It’s very humbling, and I’m very excited about it,” a smiling Vredeveld said this week as she resumed practicing at Baylor. “I didn’t know I could drop that much. I was hoping to go my best time, but I wasn’t positive about how fast I would go.”
Since most countries use meters in athletic competitions, she actually can lay claim to being the world’s fastest 50-yard freestyler for her age.
Vredeveld, who turns 16 in July, also won the 100 free in 48.32 seconds and the 200 free in 1:45.63 while in Orlando and finished fifth in the 100 backstroke. She set Junior National meet records in all three freestyle victories, and her times in all three would have placed her in the top eight of each event at the NCAA level.
Baylor coach Dan Flack has produced 14 Division I swimmers in his five seasons with the Aqua Raiders and Lady Raiders and already is overwhelmed with texts and emails about the 6-foot Vredeveld.
“When you get someone who is a 50, 100 and 200 freestyler, that’s the most coveted thing,” Flack said. “It’s like getting a quarterback or a really good rush defensive end in football, because they can impact all the relays as well. Relays score double, and in team competitions relative to NCAA titles, relays are paramount.
“I’ve always been pretty popular with the college coaches, but I’m very popular with them right now.”
Vredeveld’s father, Roger, swam at North Carolina, and her older brother, Nathan, is a sophomore swimmer at Virginia. Her time to choose a college is a long way off, and that’s where she wants to keep it.
“Whenever we go to a city that has a college or some colleges, we usually look at them so that I can have a picture in my mind,” she said. “I guess when the time comes, I will think about it a lot, and my parents will help. Right now I’m just keeping my options open.”
Kristen swam the 50 free in 22.41 seconds last month at the Tennessee state meet in Knoxville, which surpassed Baylor’s previous bests of 22.52 seconds by Stephanie Napier and 22.53 by Sloane Pitman. Napier was ranked No. 1 nationally in the 50 free as a junior and senior at Baylor and was on Florida’s national championship team as a senior last year, and Pitman currently swims at Tennessee.
Had Vredeveld’s time of 22.17 seconds in Orlando occurred during a high school competition, it would have been the fastest prep time ever. That standard of 22.24 seconds was turned in earlier this year by Missy Franklin, who lives near Denver and is only a sophomore as well.
So the race could be on to see which high school standout can produce the first 50 free in under 22 seconds.
“I think that’s very realistic,” Flack said. “Kristen just needs to continue to get more powerful in the work that we do. There is a lot more speed to be had just by getting physically stronger and by becoming a better overall athlete.”
Vredeveld practices more than two hours every day after school, and she swims for 90 minutes three mornings a week before class. Her Saturday mornings are spent in the pool as well, often for as long as three hours.
Neither Flack nor Vredeveld could have imagined a couple of years ago what just transpired in Orlando, and now it’s on to the next accomplishment, whatever or wherever that may be.
“I just have to keep working,” she said. “Everybody has been supportive, which has been really nice, but I’m trying not to let this affect me too much.”
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...