Sixteen-year-old Lydia Jacoby of Seward says she spends about 15 hours a week in a swimming pool. For a while last summer, she was spending about the same amount of time on the phone talking to college coaches eager to land one of the nation’s top recruits.
Her phone has gone quiet in recent days. Jacoby last week decided she will attend the University of Texas at Austin, which has a strong swim program and an array of academics to choose from.
“I love the coaches. I really connected with them well when I visited, and I really connected with the city too,” Jacoby said. “Most of the time I will be doing swimming and school work, but there’s lots of super-fun that’s five minutes away.”
One of 12 Alaskans in history to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials, Jacoby still has two years of high school left. A high school champion for the Seward Seahawks who set state records as a freshman and sophomore, Jacoby is home-schooling this school year because of uncertainties caused by COVID-19.
Last month she turned heads at the U.S. Open national championships in San Antonio, where she was an eyelash away from a junior national record in the 100-meter breaststroke. Her time of 1 minute, 7.57 seconds ranks second all-time among U.S. girls ages 15-16.
Jacoby had by then narrowed her choices to four schools — Texas, Tennessee, Notre Dame and North Carolina State — and she visited all four campuses after the national championships.
“I loved them all,” she said. “’I just really, really liked everything about Texas. The academics are really good, and it’s a big school so there’s a lot of options for majors.”
One of Alaska’s most highly sought high school athletes of the year, Jacoby has been on the college radar for some time now.
She was 14 when she qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials two years ago with a 100-meter breaststroke time of 1:10.45, and since then she has lopped nearly two seconds off that time. And she has qualified for the Olympic Trials in a second event — her time of 2:32.36 in San Antonio met the qualifying standard in the 200-meter breaststroke.
Jacoby’s phone started ringing on June 15, the first day NCAA coaches are allowed to contact high school swimmers following their sophomore year.
“On that date we got a bunch of emails and everything,” Jacoby said. “This summer I spent three or four hours a day on the phone with coaches. This fall once I narrowed it down, it was one or two hours a morning. It’s just a lot of time, talking and researching academic programs.”
She said it’s typical for the nation’s top high school swimmers to commit to a college prior to their junior year, which means kids have barely finished their sophomore year when they are expected to choose a college.
“There’s just a lot of pressure to commit early when you’re in that top number of kids,” Jacoby said. “Scholarships also play into that, because the top schools are filling out teams so fast they might give your spot away.”
After Jacoby returned to Seward following last month’s tour of colleges, she quarantined before returning to the pool. These days, returning to the pool means commuting to Anchorage with mom Leslie Jacoby, because Seward’s only pool is closed because of COVID-19. They rent a small apartment in Anchorage so Jacoby can practice at the Service High pool with the Northern Lights Swim Club.
• Jacoby’s personal-best 100-meter breaststroke time is 1:07.57, the second-fastest time in history by a U.S. girl in the 15-16 age group. The record is 1:07.05, the time that carried Megan (Quann) Jendrick to the gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia.
• Jacoby’s personal-best 200-meter breaststroke time is 2:32.36, which ranks 73rd all-time in the girls 15-16 age group.
• Jacoby set the Alaska high school state record in the 100-yard breaststroke as a freshman in 2018 with a time of 1:03.11. She lowered it to 1:00.61 as a sophomore in 2019. She didn’t compete in high school swimming this school year because she is home-schooling during the pandemic.
• Jacoby said she looks forward to taking in the music scene in Austin. For six years, she played stand-up bass and sang for the Snow River String Band, a bluegrass band featuring Jacoby and some classmates. The band was a regular at the Anchorage Folk Festival.