Snohomish swimmer Riechel is The Herald’s Man of the Year in Sports

With an athletic scholarship offer to Stanford University in hand, you can bet Garren Riechel is coming off a stellar year of swimming.

Is he ever.

The 18-year-old Riechel began 2009 with the second half of his junior season at Snohomish High School and went on to win Class 4A state championships in the 50-yard freestyle and the 100 breaststroke.

He then closed out the year with the start of a senior season that was once again outstanding. A few months later, Riechel would repeat with state titles in the same two events.

For those lofty accomplishments, which confirmed that he is one of the best high school swimmers ever from Snohomish County, Riechel is The Herald’s Man of the Year in Sports for 2009.

“Swimming for four years was definitely the highlight of my high school career as a student-athlete,” said Riechel, who finished his Snohomish varsity career with six individual and three relay state championships.

“There’s nothing else to compare to it. I really don’t have any negative memories from the swim team. It’s really been a positive experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was definitely a fun time.”

Riechel won four straight 100 breaststroke high school state titles, and he considers that his best stroke. At the tender age of 16, he attended the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials and placed 24th in the 100-meter breaststroke.

“I’ve always kind of had a natural talent for (the breaststroke),” he said. “Since I was about 9, it’s kind of been my forte.”

Riechel still has Olympic aspirations, but first he is off to study and swim at Stanford, which has both an elite academic emphasis and an equally elite swimming program. The Cardinal’s men’s team is headed by Skip Kenney, who is a three-time U.S. Olympic coach, a six-time NCAA Coach of the Year, and a 19-time Pacific-10 Conference Coach of the Year.

During recruiting visits, Riechel was told by Kenney “that they train Olympians (at Stanford). Their goal is to put people on the Olympic team. That’s what they’re gearing all their training towards,” he said.

“I really have no idea what to expect, but I’m looking forward to it, to say the least. Stanford has a lot of the guys that I really look up to. I’ve never worked with that many high-caliber swimmers before. It’s one of the best programs to go into.”

Even though his high school career has ended and he is still months from leaving for college, Riechel continues to train diligently.

“I like to think I’m getting a little better every day,” he said. “And I feel like I’m getting stronger. I haven’t had any meets to mark my progress, but I have the feeling like I’m getting faster. So I definitely feel like I’m improving.”

And down the road, he hopes to take another crack at the Olympic Trials and perhaps earn a spot on future U.S. Olympic teams. Because swimmers can compete internationally into their 30s, Riechel could contend for places on the U.S. team for the next several Games.

“Every single kid’s dream is to make it to the Olympics,” he acknowledged. “It would be an incredible experience, and I’m certainly going to try as hard as I can to get there.”

Still, knowing the odds are long, “I try not to dwell on it too much,” he said. “But I’ll go (to the Trials), do my best, and give it my all.”

Being an Olympian, he said, “would definitely be one of my lifelong goals and dreams.”

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