Herrington out to start new era for swim team

For the past seven years, the UNLV women’s swimming team has lived in the shadow of the men’s program. Sophomore Katelyne Herrington aims to change that.

Herrington, a native of Stockton, Calif., loves the fact that the men have won seven consecutive conference championships. But she is on a crusade to prove that the women are just as capable of competing at an elite level.

“This could be the turning point,” said Herrington, who has turned in several dominant performances in the 100-yard butterfly this season. “I think we have four girls with the potential to go to the NCAAs this year.”

Rebels associate head coach Kunio Kono, who works directly with Herrington, said he shares that hunch.

“I definitely think this is the beginning of a new era for the women’s team,” the coach said. “And I think Katelyne has the ability to make it to the top 16, the top eight of the NCAAs, even this year.”

Indeed, Herrington earned a provisional qualification for the national meet early, on Dec. 1, when she completed the 100 fly in 52.43 seconds at the Texas Hall of Fame Invitational in Austin, Texas. The strong performance earned her runner-up honors, and her time was the fourth fastest in the nation this season.

“I think I’m sitting in a pretty good place right now,” she said.

An NCAA appearance would help atone for Herrington’s rough stretch performance last year.

“I wanted to go to the NCAAs all four years,” Herrington said. “I was pretty bummed when I didn’t make it last year, but I’ve grown from it.”

Kono said his standout swimmer has developed a relentless work ethic that’s almost dangerous.

“She doesn’t have fear,” the coach said. “I don’t have to tell her to work hard. Instead, I have to tell her to be careful not to hurt herself, because she sometimes goes 150 percent. If I don’t stop her, she’s going to get hurt.”

There is a certain irony in Herrington’s success, as she wound up at UNLV by chance. Several programs recruited her throughout the tail end of her prep career at Stockton’s Tokay High School.

“I had never even heard of UNLV,” she said. “I always dreamed of going to UCLA.”

But former Rebels assistant coach Ben Loorz saw her swim at a regional meet, and he reported his findings to coach Jim Reitz.

“I went and watched her work out,” Reitz said. “She was raw, but she was an untapped potential.”

Herrington dropped her UCLA aspirations after one visit to Las Vegas.

“I came here and loved it,” said Herrington, who also swims the 50 and 100 freestyle events. “I connected with the coaches and the team, and it just seemed to be the right fit. I’ve never regretted my decision at all.”

Reitz said he sees more promise every day. “She has just thrived here,” he said.

Though Herrington is cautious about looking too far into the future, her rapid development at UNLV has caused her to entertain notions of the possibilities to come.

“I haven’t quite figured it all out yet,” she said. “I’ll see during my senior year, but I’m going to try to earn (an Olympic) trial cut this year to see if I’ll even have a chance in four years.”

Though Reitz sees that same potential, he is more focused on the season at hand. The women are off to an 0-5 start in dual meets this season, but the coach contended that head-to-head competition means little at the end of the season.

“When the men won their first of the seven championships, they were dead last in dual meets going into the Mountain West Conference meet,” he said. “The dual-meet record is not indicative of how good a team is. We have a good team this year.”

Herrington is doing all she can to prove her coach right. She swam a 56.09 Sunday to win the 100 fly in the UNLV Invitational at Buchanan Natatorium.

The Rebels, who won the meet, will rest until traveling to face UC Santa Barbara on Jan. 21.

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