When Alex Sumner set upon her summer of vetting colleges, she had a few qualifying criteria.
Exemplary academics were a must. A chance to compete for league — and maybe NCAA — titles was a plus. Warm weather would be a nice touch.
But when it came to breaking ties, the Episcopal Academy senior reverted to her bread-and-butter: What program would be best for her … as a backstroker?
The answer, Sumner decided this week, is the University of California at Berkley.
“Cal is known for having really great backstrokers,” the reigning Daily Times Girls Swimmer of the Year said. “… There will be competition on the team and there’s always going to be people to race. (Head coach) Teri (McKeever) knows how to train all strokes, but backstroke is something special Cal has been able to develop.”
The list of star Cal backstrokers is long and distinguished: Missy Franklin, Natalie Coughlin, Elizabeth Pelton, Rachel Bootsma and 2016 Olympic silver medalist Kathleen Baker in the 100-meter back. Baker, who will be a senior in 2018-19 when Sumner is a freshman, won the 100- and 200-yard back at NCAAs last year and accomplished the 100/200 double at Nationals in late June to qualify for this week’s World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
Sumner finished 48th in that race in Indianapolis and 47th in the 200 individual medley, but she turned heads by placing fifth in the 200 back. Her time of 2 minutes, 10.36 seconds from prelims is the 10th-fastest all-time (long-course meters) for the 15-16 age group, just .13 seconds behind Baker’s quickest time from four years earlier. She finished fifth at nationals, earning a spot in the U.S. delegation for the World Junior Championships in Indy in late August.
Sumner’s best LCM time of 1:01.61 in the 100 back, set in late May in Vancouver, is the 25th fastest 15-16 time ever, just .06 behind another 2016 Olympian, Olivia Smoliga.