Upon joining the La Costa Canyon High girls swim team, current senior Rachel Rhee admired the accomplishments by a Mavericks alum who remains a San Diego Section record holder.
That would be Kendyl Stewart, who set the 100-yard butterfly mark (52.43) in 2010 and also held the 100 freestyle record since broken and came close to the 100 back mark as well. She became an All-American at USC and competed for the U.S. national team.
“When I saw all of Kendyl Stewart’s records,” Rhee recalled, “I went, ‘Oh, my God, will I ever be able to swim that fast and live up to that legacy.’ ”
As it has turned out, Rhee is building one of her own. She is bidding to break the 50 free record this season for the third consecutive year and just may add another in the 200 free. In addition, it’s possible for her to complete a career sweep of section titles in both events in Division II.
The 5-foot-101/2 Rhee has already surpassed her 50-free record (23.05) by just cracking the 23-second milestone (22.99) in club competition over the winter.
As for the 200 free, Rhee is aiming to improve from her championship time last season (1:47:47) to the high 1:45 zone. If so, she can break the section mark (1:46.62) set in 2005 by Blake Hayter of the old USDHS.
“When you’re swimming those races and over and over, you’re bound to hit the same time or even add a little time,” Rhee said. “But when you drop, it’s an amazing feeling because you know you’re improving and getting stronger. For my 200 free, for a year and half, I’m starting to edge toward that time. it’s a long process to get there, but I’m hoping to get that time.”
Those two races are Rhee’s signature events. Yet her repertoire also includes the 100 and 500 free as well as the 100 and 200 breast.
It all gives Rhee versatility when she heads next fall to UCLA, where she plans to focus her studies on media art.
“Rachel’s dedicated and just works hard,” La Costa Canyon coach Patty Mackle said. “Over the years, she’s grown. She’s tall and strong. Also, she’s very focused and knows how to race.”
When an initial try at golf didn’t prove to her liking, Rhee recalls being inspired by a chance TV view of the winning U.S. team in the 4x100-meter free relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She subsequently took a fast track in youth swimming.
“When you dive into the water, everything is just so peaceful,” Rhee said. “There are no distractions. You can just hear the water going over you. Another thing I really love about swimming is the racing. It’s so much fun.”
Rhee began her string of twin wins in the section meet as a freshman in the 50 free (23.44) and 200 (1:48:92). Her first 50-free section record (23:19) came the next year.
Now she brings the experience of an upperclassman.
“As a person, I’m more open to all situations,” Rhee said. “I guess my goal both with swimming and life itself is that I have to accept everything that happens to me good or bad and make the best out of it.”
In club swimming, Rhee trains beside Torrey Pines senior Kira Crage, who approached Rhee’s 50-free record at last year’s state meet (23:09). However, since the two are in opposite divisions, there’s been no showdown between them at the section meet.
“Every day, we practice together and push each other to do our best,” Rhee said. “Even though we’re competing in practice, we get along really well.”
Crage helped the Falcons set a section record in the 200 medley relay (1:45:34) in the morning meet. But then La Costa Canyon set a new mark (1:45:18) in the afternoon with Rhee anchoring.
Also due back from that relay for the Mavericks this season are seniors Tegan Preston and Erin Taggart and freshman Noelle Harvey.
Rhee has also embraced her role as a team captain this season.
“I’m hoping that before I graduate that I’ll be able to inspire people to be a great teammate and be very close as a family,” Rhee said. “I just want to show them that no matter how big or small we are, we’re all the same. We’re just one big Maverick family.”
It’s all part of her legacy.
Glae Thien is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune.