Highlands grad Bailey Bonnett excels for Kentucky swimming
As one of the top high school swimmers in the state in recent years, Bailey Bonnett often practiced alongside the boys during club workouts at Fox Chapel Killer Whales.
The Highlands graduate is finding things more her speed in college.
In her first season at Kentucky, Bonnett became a significant contributor for the Wildcats in the breaststroke and on relays, setting a pair of school records and likely earning a spot at next month's NCAA championships at Ohio State. She will compete this week at the SEC championships at Texas A&M.
“I knew it wasn't going to be easy, and that was definitely true,” Bonnett said. “It was a lot of hard work, but it's really fun because there's a lot of girls here that I train with every day. We're all really close, and we're all working together toward the same goal, which is really good. It's fun because I have a breaststroke group now.”
Bonnett won four PIAA championships and eight WPIAL titles in her four seasons at Highlands, setting school records in every event but the 50- and 100-yard freestyle. She also qualified for and competed at the 2016 Olympic Trials in the breaststroke, putting her on several collegiate programs' radar.
The success is still going since she arrived at Kentucky.
“She's adapted really well to training, and she's a great competitor,” Kentucky coach Lars Jorgensen said. “I think her training has gone up a level, which has helped her. Her natural talent is always going to be there, and I think now she's getting to the point where she's starting to be confident that she can compete with some of the best people in the country. That's the next step.”
Bonnett set school records in the 100 and 200 breaststroke early this season and earned NCAA “B” cuts in both — meaning she hasn't automatically qualified for the NCAA championships but will if her times meet NCAA standards that will be released before the meet.
She downplayed the records — “There's so many good breaststrokers that we're just going to go back and forth anyway,” she said — but believes she's improved greatly by working with her fellow Kentucky swimmers.
The Kentucky regimen calls for nine pool workouts as well as three one-hour weight sessions each week, most of which she does with her fellow breaststrokers.
“Whenever you're in practice, if you have a bad practice, you're not only hurting yourself, but you're hurting your whole team,” she said. “You have to try to have good practices every day to help out your team because it wouldn't be fair to them if they were all having great practices and you weren't. When you go to conference meets, it's the team working together to get as many points as you can.”
While breaststroke became perhaps Bonnett's signature stroke in high school, Jorgensen said the plan is to work her into more events as time goes on. Bonnett won WPIAL and PIAA medals in the 500 freestyle and 200 individual medley, showing her ability with the other strokes.
Jorgensen called the SEC championships a potential “stepping stone” for Bonnett, a chance to compete against the top swimmers in the conference — notably those from Texas A&M — before going against the best in the country at the NCAA championships.
“When she's racing, she's an incredible racer,” Jorgensen said. “She loves to win, and that's tough to teach as well. She just really likes to get after it.”
Bonnett said she was keeping her SEC goals private, but she's ready to jump into the meet.
“It's going to be a fun experience to have a huge team behind me,” she said. “Before I swam for a smaller team at Fox Chapel, and my high school was a smaller team. But now I have a team of 30 girls, and we'll all be cheering for each other and hoping each other does the best. We all have the common goal, and it'll be fun.”