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Murray Journal

Cottonwood High School swimmer being called ‘Utah’s best ever’

Dec 01, 2017 08:01AM ● By Carl Fauver

Hidden inside the sprawling Cottonwood High School campus on Murray’s east side is the much smaller Academy for Math, Engineering & Science (AMES). And hidden in the AMES charter school class of about 100 seniors is Rhyan White—possibly the best swimmer the state of Utah has ever produced.

“I know she’s the first Utah high school swimmer to earn a spot on the USA Swimming Women’s Junior National Team in the 20 years I’ve been around the sport,” said her Cottonwood High School and Wasatch Front Fish Market club team coach Ron Lockwood.  “And speaking with others who’ve been around the sport longer than me, I’ve not found anyone who knows of another Utah swimmer who’s earned that honor.”

Lockwood is hoping White and her Cottonwood teammates can do something the school has not accomplished since 1981—win the state swimming title.

“We finished second in state to Sky View last year…and didn’t lose any graduating seniors,” Lockwood said. “I’m always very careful not to set unrealistic goals for my teams. But winning the state title is very realistic this year, if the girls work hard.”

White certainly hopes that happens and said she will work hard for it. But she’s also got her sights on much loftier goals.

“I want to swim in Tokyo in 2020,” White said. And yes, that is the site of the next summer Olympic Games.

“I began swimming at about age five or six,” Rhyan added. “My three older brothers and one older sister did it, so it was natural for me to follow.”

But unlike those siblings, who White said “drifted away from swimming, at about high school age,” she stuck with it.

Now the young woman—who lives with her family in Herriman and drives across the Salt Lake Valley each morning to school—is rapidly becoming a household name in the swimming world, nationwide.

White’s top event is the backstroke. Here in Utah, the high school racing distance is 100 meters. Since jumping onto the scene three years ago as a freshman she’s never lost the event and is the state record holder for all Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) classifications.

In the ninth grade, White set the state record in the 100 backstroke at 54.75 seconds. The next year she bested that by more than a full second, coming in at 53.45. Last year, her coach reports her winning time was 53.79 seconds.

White also won the state title in the 100 butterfly her sophomore year and the 200 individual medley last season. She’s been named the “Utah Female Swimmer of the Year” in her UHASA class each of those three years. 

But don’t think White has never been disappointed in the pool.

“Last summer (at the Olympic time trials in Omaha) I wanted to earn a second race in the 200 backstroke, but fell short by about half a second,” she said.

Of all the girls competing in the event, only the top 16 racers qualified for that second race. White said she tied for 18th place.

“It just made me even more determined,” Rhyan added. “I’ll be ready the next time.”

Utah fans who want to see arguably our best-ever swimmer need to get to a meet quickly. After the 5A state finals meet in February, White will never again swim in a high school race. And a few months later she’ll move across the country.

“I honestly never really considered attending a Utah university because I want to extend myself and see what the world is like,” White said.  “After visiting Alabama, Texas A&M and Kentucky I’ve now made a verbal commitment to attend the University of Alabama.”

In case you’re wondering, it’s 1,771 miles from Herriman to Tuscaloosa.  For that matter, it’s 5,477 miles from southern Salt Lake County to Tokyo. So White will be traveling around.

“I’ve loved growing as a swimmer here in Utah,” she added, “and I definitely would not be the swimmer I am without (Coach Lockwood). But I think I’m ready for new challenges.”

Before that however, Lockwood has high hopes for his Cottonwood teams.  

“Not only did the girls team not graduate any seniors off last year’s squad, but neither did the boys,” he said. “We could win the state title on both sides.”

By the way, Cottonwood High School accomplished that same feat in 1980, a generation before Rhyan White was born.