Former Firebird Brunfeldt dominates for Aquahawks

The tall and lanky swimmer careened through pedestrian traffic along the main pool at the Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center, literally and figuratively head-and-shoulders above the competition during the final day of the Roger Hill Invitational on Sunday.

When he left the building, he took home four individual event titles with him.

After finishing his freshman year at Indiana University, Alex Brunfeldt has come home to rejoin the Lawrence Aquahawks and one of the coaches who helped him reel in his Division One scholarship, Mike Soderling.

When Brunfeldt’s first season in Bloomington, Ind., ended, he had competed in every event. He won five races, including a sweep in three distance-freestyle events in a dual against Purdue.

“I knew going into it that it would be a lot of work, and that every day would be on a grand scale,” Brunfeldt, “and for the most part, I was right.”

The former Free State High standout suffered partly from homesickness and partly from disorientation for the first couple of months. Then, his times started dropping.

“Once I was able to adjust, I knew that I could hang in with everybody I was competing against,” he said.

Brunfeldt returned to Lawrence during the first week of May to get more tutelage from Soderling.

“It’s good being back home because it’s kind of a break from school, but not by any means am I taking it easy here,” he said.

Despite the obvious factors of increased age and strength, Soderling said he hasn’t noticed anything different about his student – he’s just as dominant in the pool as he ever was.

“He left as a national qualifier so he was already in the elite part of swimming,” Soderling said. “He’s just so consistent. He already had that before he left.”

Alex Brunfeldt, left, sits with his teammates during the Roger Hill Invitational swim meet. Brunfeldt, a Free State High product who now swims for Indiana University, won four events Sunday at the Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center.

Out of all the memories he’s made swimming for the Aquahawks and Firebirds, his fondest moment does not center on a particular race.

“I’d have to say that the state championship is up there, but my favorite part is being with friends and family,” Brunfeldt said. “There’s no way to visit every weekend when you live eight hours away.”

Brunfeldt said he has “played with the idea” of trying out for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, but still has not made a definitive decision on the matter. Instead he is looking at a shorter timeline – his sophomore season at Indiana.

Although he made it to the NCAA Championships and finished 22nd in the 1,650-yard freestlye, he said he wanted to score in the event next season, meaning he’ll have to finish in the top 16.

Brunfeldt currently has turned his focus to the U.S. Swimming sectional competition in Oklahoma City and ultimately the U.S. Nationals in Irvine, Calif., on Aug. 2-6. He has already qualified for the 1500, 800 and 400-meter freestyle events. It will be his fourth time in the biggest domestic summer swimming event which will be comprised of a field of fellow collegians, high school stars, Olympians and international standouts.

“I’d say it’s just a lot of fun to start with,” Brunfeldt said. “You get to see all these fast swimmers and then you get to swim against them.”

Although 29 Aquahawks are slated to swim in sectionals, only a handful will make it to nationals, Soderling said.

The coach predicted that current Free State phenom Ashley Robinson (200-meter butterfly) and Kansas University junior Jenny Short (100-meter backstroke) will join Brunfeldt, although others could qualify with the right score in Oklahoma City.

“I’m not ruling out anyone out, but they probably have the best chance,” Soderling said.