AURORA | The Smoky Hill swimming program has another standout headed to swim in the Pac-12 as senior Juhan Hong has verbally committed to Arizona State.
Hong — a distance freestyle standout — gave his pledge to join the Sun Devils, who finished 18th at last season’s NCAA Division I swimming championships, last week.
Initially, the University of Denver, University of Minnesota and University of Wyoming were also in the mix, but some of his options recently disappeared. Hong, however, ended up with his first choice all along.
“It’s a great campus, it’s always sunny and the people there are so nice,” Hong said Monday, recounting his trip to the campus in Tempe, Ariz.
“The swim team is amazing,” he added. “They have great coaches and great swimmers, so I feel that can help take me to another level. I’m so excited to swim in the Pac-12, it’s just another level of competition. You get to meet all those Olympians and just race.”
Indeed, Hong will join 2010 graduate Caroline Piehl — who swims for the powerhouse University of California-Berkeley women’s team that includes Regis Jesuit High School grad Missy Franklin — as Smoky Hill swimmers at programs in the Pac-12, widely considered the elite conference for men’s and women’s swimming.
“Juhan’s going to have incredible competition every time he dives in the water being at ASU,” Smoky Hill coach Scott Cohen said. “It should be a very good spot for him to continue to grow as a swimmer and to get an education. Also, I think he’s going to be able to swim outside, which is something every swimmer wants to have on a regular basis.”
Hong is definitely looking forward to outdoor meets given few, if any, can be held in Colorado. Besides that, he doesn’t know anybody at Arizona State, so he’s looking forward to the “clean slate” the school will provide and may pursue an interest in biomedical engineering.
There is still a senior season to look forward to for Hong, who transferred to Smoky Hill from Eaglecrest after his freshman season.
A strong leader and big personality out of the water, Hong’s been one of the cornerstones of Cohen’s program and last season helped lead the Buffaloes to an eighth-place finish at the 2013 5A boys state swim meet.
He has the Smoky Hill record in the 500-yard freestyle — so small feat at a school that has had four state champions in the event — and placed an Aurora-best third in the event last season, clocking an Automatic All-American time of 4 minutes, 34.54 seconds.
Hong also took 8th in the 200 freestyle and swam legs on Smoky Hill’s 11th-place 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams. He was the lone swimmer not from 5A juggernaut Regis Jesuit to earn a spot on last season’s Aurora Sentinel All-City Boys Swim Team.
“I’ve been training pretty hard at practice, so hopefully I’ll finish my best,” said Hong, who would love to swim under 4:30 in the 500 by the end of the season. “I’m going to try to win state, that’s my biggest goal. Besides that, I just want to lead our team. We only lost three seniors from last year, so we should go out with a bang.”
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel.