Their first connection with competitive swimming had different origins.
Together, Washington High’s Brianna Mount and Jacquie Kinman, along with Pace seniors Nate Thomas and Olivia Weekley, all progressed the past three years in a sport they grew to love.
The journey was celebrated Monday when the four prep swim stars signed with four different NCAA Division I teams.
“It is so great that we are all such good friends,” said Weekley, a former gymnast, who signed a swimming scholarship with the University of Arkansas. “We pushed each other to reach this, and it’s really nice to see that it all came together.”
In what may be the area’s biggest day ever for swimming signees, Mount is in line for appointment at the Air Force Academy, where she will be on the women’s swim team and train to be an officer. Kinman signed with Florida International in Miami and plans a double major. Thomas is returning to his native Indiana to swim for the Purdue Boilermakers.
In addition to their prep success, all four are swimmers with the Greater Pensacola Aquatic Club. Head coach Phil Kraus said Monday was a first for his organization with four D-I signings.
“Where they are going are all good choices. It is really neat to be part of it,” said Kraus, who attended signing events at the two schools.
At Washington, Kinman and Mount followed one great moment with another. Ten days ago, they helped the Wildcats girls swim team to the Class 2A state title, becoming the first Pensacola area team, boys or girls, to win a state swim championship.
Kinman and Mount were both on the winning 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams at the state meet.
“This is just a great way to cap the season,” Washington coach Megan Oberholtzer said. “Both of them are two of the hardest working athletes I have seen.”
“The whole girls team really pushed themselves. Those two being seniors were the leaders of the group. They both have progressed dramatically.”
Mount said she expects official notice in January whether she’s been accepted for appointment to the Air Force Academy. But the fact Air Force provided apparel and informed her it was OK to participate in a signing event is a good indication.
“They want athletes (for the academy) to get the same experience as all of the other high school athletes able to sign right now,” said Mount, who finished second in the 50 freestyle and second in the 100 breaststroke at the state meet.
Her father, Jeremy, is in the Army Reserve.
“I received a letter from (Air Force) my junior year,” said Mount, who is considering an Air Force career in the intelligence sector. “I emailed and contacted them through that.
“At first, I wasn’t into the idea (of going to a military academy) much until I visited the school, and I really just fell in love with it. The team and the academy are special.”
Kinman also was recruited via email. She researched FIU online and visited a month ago.
“I really liked the campus and the team and how the team practiced,” said Kinman, who has been a GPAC swimmer for the past 10 years.
She played a variety of sports as a youth, but “swimming was the only sport I didn’t get hurt doing, so I kinda decided to stick with that one,” Kinman said, laughing.
In contrast, Thomas was not actively involved in sports until a friend coaxed him into joining the school swim team when his family lived in Westfield, Ind.
“He said, ‘You are tall and you can swim.’ It turned out pretty good for me,” said Thomas, whose family moved to Pace three years ago.
Thomas is now 6-foot-8. He won the boys 100 freestyle and was second in the 50 freestyle this past Friday at the Class 3A state meet in Stuart. When joining Purdue’s team, he will be part of conference that has competed in men’s swimming since 1911.
“I never thought I would be a Big Ten swimmer because I only really started swimming competitively three years ago,” he said. “Coming from where I was then, until now, is very rewarding.
“I have family up there and friends. It is going to be a good fit, and I’m really excited to be a Boilermaker.”
Weekley began swimming at age 11. She did it as therapy for an injury sustained while competing in gymnastics. From that point, she began to focus on swimming. It led to her success with GPAC and Pace.
“This is what what every high school athlete hopes for, and I am so excited,” Weekley said.