TJ record-holder continuing her distinguished career in Penn State women's swimming program
As a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School in 2010-11, Grace Ninesling qualified for the WPIAL Class AA girls' swim championships in every event for the second consecutive year.
Ninesling ended her scholastic career with five girls' team records at TJ — in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle events, 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke.
She was an honorable mention all-state selection in the 50 freestyle event, and was a four-year letterwinner — two years at Spring High School in Spring, Texas, and two years at Thomas Jefferson High School.
Ninesling, 19, is a sophomore member of the Penn State University women's swimming team. She secured a position on the PSU traveling team during her freshman year, and competed in five of the team's nine meets.
The local product competed in the 100 breaststroke in all five competitions a year ago, swam in three events at the Big Ten Conference championships, and set season-best marks in the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle and 100 breaststroke.
The Penn State women's team recently traveled to Indiana for a tri-meet, and competed in the prestigious Georgia Fall Invitational along with the likes of Harvard, Auburn, Cal Berkley and Stanford.
Ninesling recorded season-best times of 23.49 in the 50 freestyle, 51.60 in the 100 freestyle, and 1:03.24 in the 100 breaststroke — all likely qualifying times for the Big Ten Conference championship meet to be held at the University of Minnesota in February.
Ninesling worked this past summer at the prestigious Pinecrest Academy Swim Camp in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where she trained and was a camp counselor for swimmers from all over the world.
Ninesling and her PSU teammates are busy with their class finals this week, will be home for the holidays Dec. 22 to 27, then will travel to Florida to participate in a training program.
Earlier this month, the Penn State women's team was ranked 11th in the College Swimming Coaches Association of America.
Ninesling recently took a break from her studies and swimming to discuss life as a student-athlete on the Penn State University campus:
Q: When did you start swimming?
A: I started swimming when I was 10 years old.
Q: What attracted you to the sport?
A: My neighborhood had a summer league team that all my friends were on, so I thought it would be fun.
Q: Do you have a favorite event? ... or, strongest event?
A: My favorite event is the 50 freestyle, but I also like the 100 breaststroke.
The 50 is my favorite event because its the shortest and fastest race in college swimming. I'm a sprinter so racing the 50 is really fun for me.
Q: What attracted you to attend Penn State?
A: I chose Penn State right after I went to my first Penn State football game with my friend Kellie Rizzo from TJ when we were both seniors in high school. Her parents had tickets and invited me to go.
And it's a great school, of course. As a student-athlete, I'm more proud than ever to swim for Penn State. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
There's a lot of support for student-athletes here, and the swim team is a second family to me.
Q: Have you participated in other sports?
A: I am terrible at any other sport, seriously ... ha-ha.
Q: Describe life in a major college swimming program.
A: It's a lot of work, and morning practices start at 6 a.m. Some days, I swim twice a day on top of weight lifting. It can be hard to balance all of the workouts with school work, but it is so worth it.
Q: What is your typical day like?
A: My day starts off with either swimming or weight lifting at 6. I go to class in the morning, and try to nap before my afternoon swim practice. I usually go to dinner with my teammates at the buffet after practice, and then do whatever homework I have. It's a tight schedule.
Q: What are your personal goals for the 2012-13 swimming season?
A: My goal personally is to do well at the Big Ten Conference meet in February, and maybe down the road make it to NCAAs.
As a team, we want to do really well at the Big Ten Conference (meet) and send as many people as possible to NCAAs.
Q: What has been the highlight of your college swimming career so far?
A: So far, it has been swimming at Big Ten's last year. It was the biggest meet I ever swam in, and was so much fun. I was really nervous to swim at Big Ten's because it was the biggest meet I'd ever swam in.
At the same time, it was probably one of the best weekends of my life because of how much energy and competition the meet had. I watched some of my teammates win events at Big Ten's, and our team went wild with excitement.
Q: Can you describe how your experience at Thomas Jefferson High School prepared you for college?
A: The AP courses at TJ helped me prepare for the college workload. TJ had some really great teachers that I was lucky to have.
Q: Do you keep in touch with former TJ swimmers, students?
A: Yes, I still keep in touch with a lot of my classmates, some of whom were swimmers.
Q: Who has been the biggest influence, or influences, in your swimming career?
A: My coach (Aaron Workman) at Penn State. He's the best coach I've ever had, and has helped me improve more than I ever thought I could.
Q: What is your major?
A: I'm a business major, focusing on management information systems.
Q: What is your favorite subject, and why?
A: I liked my freshman year English class a lot because I like writing.
Q: What do you plan to do after graduating from college?
A: That's a great question ... I'll have to get back to you on that one ... ha-ha.
Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.