Costella is set for nationals

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Lauren Costella's improvement from the spring to summer nationals last year was hard not to notice.

The Carson High junior had a strong showing at last year's U.S. spring national swimming championships, placing fifth in the 1,500-meter freestyle and 27th in the 800 free.

But she saved her best for the U.S. summer nationals when she won the national title in the 1,500 free and place fourth in the 800 free. Making the performance even more impressive is that the summer nationals had a stronger field than the spring nationals.

So it would be understandable if Costella took it for granted that she could win one or event two titles next week at the U.S. spring nationals in Minneapolis to be held March 19-23. Especially since the top collegiate swimmers won't be there since the NCAA women's championships are also next week.

But Costella doesn't see it that way. "You have to be just as tough," said Costella about next week's meet. "You can't just go out there. "You have to give it your best.

"You can't think that you're going to win. You've got to keep a positive mental attitude. You've got to go out there and fight for the race."

But make no mistake -- Costella's goal is to win the 1,500 and 800 freestyles next week.

"That will be a really big step," Costella said. "I've been training for the past six months or so and things are starting to come together. Practice has been really good, so I'm ready."

Costella's training including swimming 16,000 meters a day -- and beyond -- every day. "It was really intense training," she said.

Costella's two national events last year were eventful for the swimmer.

After placing fifth in the spring nationals in the 1,500 free, Costella fell down a flight of stairs and injured her foot. Despite having a difficult time pushing off the wall, Costella pressed on and placed 27th in the 800 free.

"I had to force myself," said Costella about swimming the 800 free. "It was kind of painful. I kind of put it from my mind and not think about it."

At the summer nationals, Costella had an impressive showing in the 400 individual medley, but was disqualified. "I definitely don't want to do that again," Costella said.

Costella will also compete in the 400 I.M. and 400 free in next week's nationals.

"I know my 400 freestyle will improve a lot and that will help me in my longer distances," she said. "I want to definitely better that time, all my times actually."

Costella is ranked in the top 10 in the world in the 1,500 free. Her winning finish of 16 minutes, 26.26 seconds in last year's nationals is the 62nd best mark of all time.

After her performance in the spring nationals, Costella said, "When I got to summer nationals, I wanted to win it."

Costella's goal is to make the 2004 Olympic team in the 800 free. "Right now training's going well to meet my goals," she said. "It's like a four-year plan."

After graduating from high school, Costella plans to stay in Carson City for one year to train for the Olympics and then will enroll in college in the fall of 2004.

Not surprisingly, Costella is already being recruited by many of the nation's top college programs.

"I've gotten lots and lots of letters," she said. "It's actually been kind of overwhelming.

"I have no idea where I want to go. It's stressful. But it's really neat getting stuff from colleges already."

Costella credits much of her success to her two past Carson Tigershark coaches, Jack Simon, and current coach, Jim Puleo.

"It's so good to have a coach that can help you achieve your goals," she said.

Charles Whisnand is the Nevada Appeal Sports Editor.


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