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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer email@example.com
Packages keep arriving in the Cal State Bakersfield swimming office for junior distance freestyler Mitchell Huxhold.
Chris Hansen, CSUB's director of swimming, held up a backpack from adidas. He flipped it to the floor on a pile of other items that are addressed to Huxhold.
Mitchell Huxhold is the CSUB record-holder in the 200, 500, 1,000 and 1,650 freestyle events, and he's on the CSUB record-holding 800-free relay team.
EventTime NCAA rank
"He's gaining a lot of media attention in the swimming world," Hansen said.
All of this for a swimmer who did not receive any scholarship offers out of high school, coming to CSUB his freshman year as a walk-on out of Escondido-San Pasqual High School.
"In men's swimming where money's not falling off trees it's not unusual to have someone come in as a freshman and say, 'You have to earn it,' " Hansen said.
As a freshman, Huxhold swam fast enough to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
"Yeah, we gave him a little boost," Hansen said of subsequent scholarship money. "Now he's knocking down the door for a little bit more."
And no wonder.
Huxhold is the first swimmer in CSUB's illustrious history to post an automatic qualifying time for an NCAA Division I Championship.
He'll swim in three events -- one each day -- at this year's meet, which begins today and continues through Saturday at the University of Texas in Austin.
Huxhold will compete in the 500-yard freestyle today, the 200-yard freestyle on Friday and his best event, the 1,650-yard freestyle, on Saturday.
Huxhold's big moment came March 1, when he won the 1,650 at the Western Athletic Conference Championships in 14 minutes, 47.18 seconds, an automatic qualifying mark for the NCAAs by .01 of a second.
That mark was nearly 29 seconds faster than runner-up Andrew Faciszewski of Air Force and broke a 27-year-old WAC record.
It also knocked 21 seconds off Huxhold's previous CSUB record, set in 2013.
Huxhold had such a big lead on Faciszewski that he could have slacked off and coasted to the win. But he needed to keep pushing to have a chance at the automatic qualifying mark.
"Fortunately, we had coaches signaling on the side," Huxhold said. "Without that, it would have been almost impossible."
He also had a lot of CSUB teammates cheering him on.
"I swam that race for my team," Huxhold said. "They were able to help me push through it to get that time."
Huxhold said he knew he was close to the automatic time when he looked at the results on the facility's results board moments after he finished.
"When I looked up, I wasn't sure if it was an 'A' (automatic) cut for sure," he said. "I knew it was 14:47-something, but I didn't know exactly.
"I looked over at my coach and my best friend, who knows all the times. He threw up the 'Runner (hand sign) and that's when I knew I had it.
"I just barely got it. It was such a relief to know I was going and not have to wait until they released the list (of qualifiers)."
Huxhold is one of only seven swimmers in the nation with an "A" time in the 1,650. The NCAA then adds the top marks just below the automatic qualifying mark to round out the field of competitors. That format is repeated for each event.
Huxhold has the seventh-fastest qualifying time. The NCAA leader this season is Michigan's Connor Jaeger at 14:34.19.
Huxhold said his goal for this week is to approach his marks from the WAC meet. "If I could hit the same times, drop them a little bit, I would be happy," he said.
His primary goal is to use this meet to prepare for next season.
"I'd like to get into the top 8," he said. "I want to use the experience to learn about it for next year when I hope to be competitive in the top 3."
Huxhold dropped his 1,650 time by about 20 seconds from a year ago, and he thinks another 20-second drop would be necessary to rank in the top 3 next year, which he said is doable. He plans on following the same script he did last summer, fall and the regular season.
"There were two major changes from last year to this year, training-wise," Huxhold said.
"First: the weight room. I started lifting a lot heavier during the summer and continued to lift heavier throughout the year.
"And winter training: I really didn't shut down mentally. The last two years I always had a period of time where I shut down mentally and it was a waste of my time to show up. ...
"This year I didn't have a long period of time training-wise when it was a waste."
Huxhold said coming to Bakersfield was the right decision.
"This was the place to be. The group of people we have here on the swimming team are here to try and make a difference on the D-I level. Definitely I've got lots of memories and best friends who have come out of this."
That's an experience that almost didn't happen after he wasn't recruited out of San Pasqual.
"I got faster a little too late to get recruited by some of the bigger schools," Huxhold said. "Chris was one of the only coaches who responded to my e-mails. So I walked on here as a freshman and I wanted to prove to the other coaches who ignored me they were wrong.
"Oh yeah," Huxhold said.