ROCKVILLE – As one of the top high school swimmers in the country, Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart junior and Chevy Chase native Phoebe Bacon knew she wanted to have her college decision made by the end of 2018. But after making multiple visits to some of the top swimming programs in the country, she still wasn’t sure as the calendar turned to 2019.
Bacon narrowed down her choices to Georgia and Wisconsin – two programs at different places in the sport. Georgia has won seven national championships since the turn of the century, while Wisconsin has never finished higher than 10th.
After going back and forth about the two schools for months, Bacon made it official on April 20, verbally committing to the Badgers.
“I was talking to Georgia and Wisconsin for a while and was lost on which I wanted to go (to) because I loved both so much,” Bacon said. “It ultimately came down to what I really wanted to do, and it came down to where I really wanted to succeed, and it came down to Wisconsin.”
Even though the Badgers have never been a swimming power, there were multiple reasons the program appealed to Bacon. Second-year Head Coach Yuri Suguiyama has local roots, as he coached Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky in the lead-up to the 2012 London Olympics. He also coached Bacon’s older brother but Phoebe didn’t get to know the coach until the recruiting process.
“Getting to know him through the recruiting process, he got me excited (as) to the future of swimming and where I could be,” Bacon said. “He made me get excited to be coached under him.”
But Suguiyama’s pedigree goes beyond just coaching the greatest female distance swimmer of all time. Before taking the job at Wisconsin, Suguiyama spent six years as the Associate Head Coach at the University of California, where his teams finished in the top two at the NCAA Championships every year. In 2016, he helped guide backstrokers Ryan Murphy and Jacob Pebley to the Olympics in the same stroke Bacon has excelled in.
In his first year at Wisconsin, junior Beata Nelson won three events at the NCAA Championships, including an American record in the 100-yard backstroke and an NCAA record in the 200-yard backstroke.
“She’s going times I want to go,” Bacon said. “I want to be that fast; I want to be able to race her in the future. I want to be where she is.”
Bacon’s times in the 100-yard and 200-yard backstroke would already be the second-fastest times in Wisconsin history behind Nelson. Bacon improved across the board this year and doesn’t have a weak stroke.
At February’s Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships, she won both the 200-yard individual medley in a meet record time of 1 minute, 57.31 seconds and the 100-yard breaststroke. She anchored Stone Ridge’s meet record 400-yard freestyle relay, posting the fastest split in the field.
“She’s good at all four (strokes),” Tim Kelly, her current coach at Nation’s Capital Swim Club. “She’s one that doesn’t like to just to backstroke, and it only makes her better. Some of the best swimmers in our club, it didn’t matter, and she has that profile.”
This year only built off a fantastic 2018 summer, in which Bacon had a fantastic performance at Nationals and won three gold medals for the United States at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships. Her preliminary time of 59.12 in the 100-meter backstroke at Nationals was the second fastest in U.S. history in the 15-16 age group. It earned her a spot on the team that will represent the United States at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, from July 26-Aug. 11, which include seven former Olympians.
“I’ve been excited for it since I heard I made the team,” Bacon said. “I can’t wait to be with that team and be with the older swimmers and watch them race.”
After the Pan Am Games, Bacon’s focus will turn to the Olympic Trials, where she hopes to qualify for as many events as possible. She’s already qualified for four events and is in striking distance of a few others. That could mean a packed schedule, especially since the Olympic Trials have one more round of swims than a normal high-level meet.
While most meets have just preliminaries and final rounds, the Olympic Trials have a semifinal round for all events that are 200 meters and below. Bacon said she’s improved on holding endurance during longer meets this year, which should only help her next summer.
She has a legitimate shot to make the team in the 100-meter backstroke, but that’s likely to be the most competitive event at the Olympic Trials. Bacon’s prelims time at Nationals was the seventh fastest in the world in 2018 and only fourth among United States swimmers.
Even if she doesn’t make the team, Kelly thinks Bacon will be able to put herself in position to swim the best race possible.
“Each six months, she gets better,” Kelly said. “That’s what really changed, her day (in) and day out just keeps getting better.”