When it came time to choose which college she wanted to swim for, there was no doubt in Kayla Mariani's mind. She sprinted straight to the University of Nevada.
The Galena High School senior signed a national letter of intent in November when she selected Nevada from a list that included Washington State. For one, Mariani is getting an opportunity to continue her education (she remains undecided on a major) close to home and an opportunity to swim for a quality Division I program.
Nevada has been a top-four team in the Western Athletic Conference each of the last six years under coach Mike Shrader, including runner-up finishes in 2002, 2003 and 2006. The Wolf Pack took a 15-0 dual meet record into their Christmas break last month.
"It's really nice to stay close to home," Mariani said. "I had other offers, but this is kind of a dream come true. When I visited, I got to meet all the girls, I got to see the dorms and all the facilities. It's a great program; right now they're No. 1 in the WAC (Western Athletic Conference). I'm just really excited."
Mariani began swimming with the Truckee Tahoe Swim Team Torpedoes at the age of 6 under former coach Nancy Rose. Swimming has provided an opportunity to travel and compete nationally. Last year, she visited the University of Michigan and had an opportunity to receive instruction from Olympic champion Michael Phelps.
As for the future, Reno Aquatics coach Dave Hoover only sees her getting faster in college.
"She does an outstanding job," said Hoover, who has worked with Mariani the last four years. "I definitely see her getting better. She definitely still has a lot of potential left in her. She's a very motivated young lady. And she's only going to improve by being in that environment because Mike does a great job at Nevada."
Mariani knows the training schedule at Nevada will be busy - morning workouts, lifting classes during the day, and more workouts later in the afternoon. It all adds up to one thing, she says.
"I'm just excited to see how much better I can get," she said. "I know everything I do there at Nevada is going to make me better. Being around those older and faster girls will make me better, and so will having all the facilities right there."
Mariani was solid at the NIAA 4A State Championships last May in Las Vegas, where she placed fourth in the 50-yard freestyle in 24.88 and swam a leg for Galena's third-place 200 medley relay team. As a sophomore in 2005, she placed third in the 50 freestyle (25.52) and fifth in the 100 butterfly (1:00.24).
Last summer, Mariani was one of 12 Reno Aquatics swimmers who competed at the Santa Clara International Meet held on June 22-25. The meet was part of USA Swimming's Grand Prix Meet Series and included teams from all over the U.S. competing along with the Mexican and Australian national teams.
Her list of personal record times includes 24.8 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle, 58.3 in the 100 butterfly and 2:10.0 in the 200 individual medley.
Mariani and her Reno Aquatics teammates will compete at the Nevada State Championships Friday through Sunday at the Carson Aquatic Facility in Carson City.
"I'm looking for her to have a good weekend," Hoover said. "We're going to need her to step up if we're going to win (the team championship).
"Kayla is a big part of our team," the coach added. "She's very valuable in the water and on the deck; that's why she's one of our captains. A lot of our younger girls and guys look up to her - she's just very inspirational."