High School Sports

Young South Florida swimmers qualify for U.S. Olympic Trials

Olympic hopeful swimmers Kelly Fertel, 17, left, Nick Carter, 25, and Niki Urquidi, 17, at the Gulliver Preparatory School Aquatic Center.
Olympic hopeful swimmers Kelly Fertel, 17, left, Nick Carter, 25, and Niki Urquidi, 17, at the Gulliver Preparatory School Aquatic Center. Miami Herald Staff

Two Gulliver Preparatory High School seniors and one adult Gulliver Swim Club member have qualified for U.S. Olympic Trials.

The Gulliver Swim Club won its first-ever team title at the Florida Gold Coast Senior Long Course Championships. Kelly Fertel, class of 2016, achieved Olympic Trials qualifying time with her performance in the girls’ 400-meter individual medley and was the senior girls’ high point winner. Niki Urquidi, also class of 2016, dazzled at the championship winning both the 200-meter and 400-meter freestyle for senior girls.

Nick Carter, an adult club member, qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke.

“This last year we’ve accomplished a lot. We won convincingly. It is a very exciting time for us as a program,” Aquatics director and head swimming director Jeff Poppell said.

Prior to joining Gulliver three years ago, Poppell coached at the University of Arkansas and at the top swimming program of the Bolles School in Jacksonville.

Both girls also qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials at the USA Swimming Junior National Championships earlier this summer. Kelly qualified with her time in the 400-meter individual medley. Niki qualified by posting a great time in the 400-meter freestyle.

Kelly joined the school and club program last fall and has always been a strong swimmer. “When she came to our program, we knew we were already getting a pretty good swimmer,” Poppell said. “She’s taken herself from being a good local swimmer to one of the best swimmers in the country for her age and event.”

“I think all my previous goals lead me to be able to reach this goal,” Kelly, 17, said on reaching the Olympic Trials.

“I always get nervous but I’ll be more excited that I’ll be there with Nick and Niki. They’re like are my best friends on the team. It’ll be really fun,” Kelly said.

Niki wasn’t on anyone’s radar two-and-a-half years ago. Back then, she didn’t qualify for the high school state championship in Florida. But after putting in the work, she’s now not only one of the better swimmers in the state, but also one of the better swimmers nationally. She posted a top eight in time for athletes in the United States for her age and event.

“My goal was to see how far I could get with this sport. I always thought my goal was to swim for college but I never really saw myself qualifying for Olympic Trials so that was pretty awesome,” said Niki, 17.

On her mindset as the Olympic Trials approach, she said, “Everyone who has been to Trials talks about the atmosphere. I’m not really nervous yet but right now it’s mostly excitement.”

Carter, 25, knew Poppell from his time in Arkansas and contacted him because he wanted to reach his full potential swimming.

“I came pretty close to Trials in 2012 and I think that made my drive even harder to get it this time around. Now that I made it I’m actually thrilled,” Carter said.

Carter has been comparing himself to other swimmers for motivation saying: “I want to see where I need to be in a year. I’m going to have to hit it twice as hard to really have a chance.”

All three swimmers acknowledged that training will be taken up a notch.

“Once high school season is over with, our training is going to gear towards the events we’re going to be swimming,” Kelly said.

Niki spoke on the new focus. “We need to see if we can lower our times and focus on the competition,” she said

“It’s going to be a step up,” Carter said.

Poppell on the three swimmers: “All three kind of had different backgrounds and stories that brought them to this program at Gulliver, but all three have had great success. These three swimmers have proved that it’s realistic.”

The 2016 Swimming U.S. Olympic Team Trials are from June 26 through July 3, 2016, at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska.