Expectations high for swimmer

Kier Maitland is not the most physically intimidating athlete ever to dive into a swimming pool.

At 5 feet 9 inches and 140 pounds, the Edmonton, Alberta, native certainly doesn’t look like much of a distance specialist.

But he is.

In fact, the UNLV freshman is being touted as one of the top recruits in team history by Rebels coach Jim Reitz.

“Kier is an enigma,” said Reitz, whose men’s squad is favored to win its fourth consecutive Mountain West Conference championship this season. “He’s pretty quiet, so it’s easy to get the wrong impression unless you see him in the pool, where he’s just ferocious.”

That ferocity has helped Maitland compile a long list of accomplishments. His third-place finish in the 1,500-meter freestyle at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, over the summer topped the list. But he also won the 1,500 free at Canada’s 2007 Spring National Championships, while placing second in the 800 and third in the 400.

Maitland, 18, said he’s aware many opponents underestimate him because of his size.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Maitland, who made a name for himself by winning top rookie honors as a 16-year-old at the 2005 World Championship Trials in Montreal. “It makes me feel like an underdog.”

But the freshman knows he’s no underdog.

“I mostly want to help out the team this year,” Maitland said. “I know I’m going to have a lot of competition, but I would like to win the conference in the mile.”

That’s quite a goal for a freshman, but its exactly what Reitz wants to hear. Though he lost several key seniors to graduation in the spring, the coach said he thinks Maitland has the potential to ignite his distance crew. He said Maitland’s growth over the past two years is a good indicator of his potential.

“I got a letter from Kier around his junior year in high school,” Reitz said. “But at that time, he wasn’t fast enough. I kept the letter, and his work ethic eventually prevailed. He got faster and faster during his senior year and he just took off.”

Maitland said his decision to become a Rebel was an easy one.

“I took a trip out here and saw how close together the team was,” he said. “I talked to coach and I made the decision. I feel it was an awesome decision. School’s going great and the swim team is an added bonus.”

Reitz said Maitland will help change the complexion of his team this season.

“We’ll still be good in the sprints, but not as deep,” said Reitz, who begins his 28th year at UNLV. “But we’ve really shifted our point scoring into the distances.”

Maitland will have plenty of help on a team full of veterans, including three defending conference champions. Senior Richard Hortness (200-yard freestyle) and juniors Jonas Andersson (200 breaststroke) and Johan Claar (1,650 free) all are expected to contribute heavily toward another championship run.

“I’m not sure if any other (UNLV) team has ever won four conference championships in a row, and that’s what we want to do,” Maitland said.

While the men will look for their fourth straight title, the women will be seeking their first since 2005.

Junior Bailey Kustermeyer, last year’s league champion in the 200 breaststroke, will lead the Rebels, who expect to battle Brigham Young for the crown.

Both squads will open their season Friday, when they host perennial power Arizona State in a 2 p.m. meet at Buchanan Natatorium.

Mountain West competition will begin Nov. 9 at BYU.

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