Competing against four-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Missy Franklin at the UNLV Fall Invitational, Rebels senior Katelyne Herrington couldn’t help but feel like Franklin was stepping on her toes.
That’s because she was. Literally.
“We were both anchoring a relay and she accidentally stepped on my toe,” Herrington said. “She was like, ‘Oh, sorry.’ I gave her a polite stare, but I was thinking, ‘It’s an honor you stepped on my toe.’ ”
Herrington — who earned All-America honors as a sophomore before falling .32 seconds short of repeating the feat at last year’s NCAA Division I championships — relished the chance to compete against Franklin and her teammates on top-ranked California, which has won two of the past three national titles.
Cal won the three-day event that ended Saturday, with Franklin winning three individual races and swimming on three victorious relay teams. UNLV finished fourth.
“It kind of gave me a feel for how it was at the NCAAs the past couple years,” Herrington said. “It was a great learning experience for how to get up and race against girls of that caliber.
“Being a competitive person, I loved to race against them. Meets like this will help me at the end of the season.”
The 18-year-old Franklin, a Cal freshman, won her four golds at the 2012 London Olympics and appears poised to become the Michael Phelps of women’s swimming.
“That’s a fair comparison,” UNLV coach Jim Reitz said. “She’s a great physical talent, but she’s also a wonderful person. She’s very articulate and just nice — that’s the one thing that strikes everybody when they meet her.”
“My eyes were on her the whole time,” she said. “She is just such a unique individual. She always has a smile on her face and is having fun. It was cool to see her in the zone racing with us, but I was also trying to keep my composure when there was an Olympic gold medalist swimming right next to me.”
Herrington, 21, set a school record in the 100-yard butterfly (52.43 seconds) at the NCAAs two years ago and last season won the Mountain West title in the event in a league-record 52.55 seconds.
On Saturday, she won the morning preliminaries in the 100 fly (52.71) and led the evening finals before fading and settling for third (52.78) behind two Cal swimmers.
“I was first off the last wall,” Herrington said. “I lost that race in the last 15 meters, so I definitely need to work on the second half of the race in practice.
“I didn’t go best time, but that will motivate me even more to work harder.”
Reitz said Herrington, a team captain and Mountain West All-Academic selection from Stockton, Calif., is a consummate leader.
“Her impact on the team goes way beyond how fast she swims,” he said. “I worry every year about perpetuating our culture, which is safe, inclusive and very diverse. Katelyn speaks to that at every level.
“She’s a very sensitive, caring person to the degree I have to remind her sometimes that she can’t take care of everybody.”
Herrington — who also swims the 50- and 100-yard freestyle and is a member of three relay teams for the Rebels — didn’t post a personal-best time at the meet, but she’s still ahead of her pace from last year.
“She started the season with a bang, and she looks great in the water right now,” Reitz said. “On the technical side of things, she’s way beyond last year.
“She got in and held her own with three or four of the top swimmers she’ll face at the NCAAs at the end of the year.”
After coming up fractions of a second short of All-America honors last season, Herrington is determined not to let that happen again.
“That small of a difference is very tough,” she said. “That’s a faster start or getting off the wall a little bit faster. It motivated me. Especially being my last year, there’s nothing to hold back.”
The 25th-ranked UNLV men also competed in the meet, finishing second to No. 5 Stanford.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.