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Young Chief an old hand in the water

Although only a sophomore, Chamberlain's Grant Nelson has as much experience and versatility as any of the Hillsborough County swimmers who qualified for the state meet this weekend in Fort Lauderdale.

Even many of the juniors and seniors.

Since he was 6 years old, Nelson has been competing with the Carrollwood Village Swim Team. He has won championships in all four strokes at local, state and national meets in USA Swimming.

In last week's Class 3A, District 5 meet, he won the 500-yard freestyle event in 4 minutes, 42.27 seconds. He placed second in the 200 freestyle in 1:45.90.

He is one of the favorites to challenge for the title in both his events. In the 500, he is seeded second and in the 200, he is seeded sixth.

Nelson, his Chamberlain teammates and all other Class 3A schools compete Saturday.

Class A schools compete today and Class 2A on Friday.

Allison Ferrebee has coached Nelson since he started his high school career. She worked as an assistant for one season before taking the helm for the Chiefs and also swam for the team while in high school.

"Grant is a big part of the Chamberlain team," Ferrebee said. "Although he is just a sophomore, his skill and experience makes him like an assistant coach in the pool. The other kids look up to him and seek his help in improving aspects of their swimming.

"He will do well at state, but win or lose, I just want him to have fun at the meet."

When it comes to swimming, Nelson said he always has fun. Even though Chamberlain is in a rebuilding phase of its swimming program, Nelson creates ways to enjoy his sport.

"Before entering Chamberlain, I had heard so much about the fun times in high school swimming from my older club teammates," Nelson said. "Club swimming is where we learn, develop and refine our skills. We race the clock. Most of the high school swimmers are seasonal. Some do well and others are still learning. So we do our best and have fun doing it."

Although the seedings are based on the best recorded times, Nelson said they don't necessarily predict the outcome of the state finals. He said he needs 1:35 to win the 200 free and 4:24 to win the 500 free.

"I'm not sure I can cut as much time needed to win this year, but after shaving and tapering, I believe I can cut a few seconds, assuming I make the finals," he said.

"From club swimming, I know my competition for both events and they are tough. However, there is a lot of adrenaline flowing in those championship finals and you never know."

Both in individual and relay team competition, only the top three in each event earned automatic berths for the state meet.

However, from the times of those placing fourth through sixth from all districts, others were selected for at-large berths.

The Chamberlain boys 400-yard freestyle relay team placed fourth in the districts and its time earned it a ticket to the state meet.

Nelson anchors that relay and is joined by Jeff Mueller, a Carrollwood teammate, Jurgen Smit and Jon Fykes.

Nelson isn't done when the final event is completed at the state meet Saturday night.

He goes back into the pool Monday to prepare for the USA Swimming Senior Championships, scheduled for March.

He has already qualified for the 200-, 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle events, plus the 100- and 200-meter butterfly and 200- and 400-meter individual medleys.

"Swimming is a major part of my life," Nelson said. "The state meet is important, but so are the Senior Championships. It is all important to me and I enjoy my sport."