Sarah Koopmans was chuffed with her commitment to swim and study at the University of Calgary, but Sin City seduction rendered extinct the allure of the Dinos.
“How could I turn down going to Vegas with my best friend?” said Koopmans, who received a more lucrative scholarship offer from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Sophia Seibel, pals with Koopmans since Grade 3, committed to the Rebels in March, a soccer stud who will toil on an athletic scholarship that is a few hundred bucks shy of a full ride.
Koopmans, an 11-year veteran of Kamloops Classic Swimming club, heard from UNLV not long after Seibel decided to run with the Rebels.
The US$32,000 per year scholarship is reward for all of those nights Koopmans opted out of social events, plunder payment for thousands of hours knifing through the water in the Canada Games Aquatic Centre pool.
“It’s hard being a teenage kid constantly doing that, but in the end, I’m really glad I did,” said Koopmans, who will graduate this year from South Kamloops secondary.
The past four years of her tenure with the Classics were under the tutelage of head coach Brad Dalke, who is also head coach of the TRU WolfPack.
“Brad’s honestly like my second dad,” said Koopmans, noting it has been odd to not see him over the past few months, with the pandemic pre-empting swim season. "I've known the guy for over 11 years now. When you see someone every day at the pool, sometimes twice a day, for four years, they grow on you.
“I used to be super scared of him. He’s an intimidating guy sometimes. Once you get to know him and he warms up to you, he’s a really good coach. I couldn’t have asked for a better one.”
A quirky sense of humour, along with enthusiasm and energy to burn, made Koopmans fun to coach, said Dalke, whose pupil will pursue a career in social work at UNLV.
“For me, as a coach, that’s the thing we’re working toward, understanding that as age group swimmers, they’re going to be pretty good, but as university swimmers and young adults, they’re going to be even better,” Dalke said.
“Everything we’ve done is developmentally appropriate. There is no way you’re going to go away to any of those university programs and be successful if you can’t handle doing academics and athletics at the same time.”
The Rebels’ recruit is a sprinter.
“I like to go all-out in one go, quick, rather than kind of pace myself,” Koopmans said. “I’ve never been very good at that.”
She specializes in the butterfly and breaststroke, qualifying in the 100-metre distance in both disciplines for the Swimming Canada 2020 Olympic and Paralympic trials, postponed due the virus crisis.
“It was frustrating feeling like I worked super hard for something, and getting super excited for it, only to have it cancelled,” said Koopmans, one of 11 Classics who qualified for the meet. “It’s not how I thought my senior year was going to go.”
Scuttled Olympic trials and eviscerated high-school graduation plans are pandemic-related bummers, but the bright lights of Vegas pierce through the fog of 2020’s gloom.
Koopmans, who was less than a second shy of qualifying for Olympic trials in the 200-metre individual medley, will be next-door neighbours with her bestie, suitemates on the strip.
Orientation is scheduled to begin on Aug. 19.
“I wanted my swimming to take me somewhere I wouldn’t have gone without it,” she said. “Now, I’m going to Vegas. It’s nice to feel I was doing it all for a reason.”
Trevor Laupland and Rebecca Dean are among graduating Classics who have committed to swim at post-secondary institutions.
Laupland will study engineering and swim at McMaster University in Hamilton, but will likely have to wait to travel east, as the fall term is expected to be conducted online due to the pandemic.
“It’s definitely pretty frustrating,” said Laupland, a Grade 12 student at South Kam. “I was getting really excited to go away and start the next chapter of my life, but I do understand why everything is happening.”
Dean is from Regina, but moved to Kamloops for her Grade 12 year to swim under Dalke, who coached her dad, was coached by her grandparents and competed against her uncle.
The graduating Classic will study English literature and film at McGill University in Montreal.