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Interone’s laid-back style helping him adjust to collegiate level

Still cool in the pool

Utah freshman Keanu Interone swims against Arizona State on Jan. 5 in Salt Lake City. The Sterling native has recovered from a foot injury, and is now almost back to full speed in the breaststroke for the Utes. (Photo/Steve C. Wilson)
Utah freshman Keanu Interone swims against Arizona State on Jan. 5 in Salt Lake City. The Sterling native has recovered from a foot injury, and is now almost back to full speed in the breaststroke for the Utes. (Photo/Steve C. Wilson)

The coach who recruited him left the school. The competition for spots on relays and in events is fierce. The addition of longer distance races is grueling.

So how has Utah freshman swimmer Keanu Interone been dealing with all of that? By carrying on his usual calm, relaxed demeanor.

"I've always been laid back and kind of chill," Interone said, "and it's always helped me through situations like this. A lot of people overthink things, focus on how hard they have to work and don't enjoy themselves.

"Me, I make sure I have fun every day, don't worry about how hard the workout's going to be, but embrace it and enjoy my time in the pool."

It's an attitude that has served the 2013 Sterling graduate well. He set the Rock Island Sectional record in the 100 breaststroke as a junior in 2012, only to shatter that as senior at the East Moline Sectional; he also set the United Township pool record last February.

His runner-up finish at the state meet in the 100 breast as a junior put him on many colleges' radar, and he followed that up with a fifth-place finish at last year's state meet, despite swimming eight-tenths of a second faster.

The path he forged in IHSA and club swimming earned him a scholarship to the University of Utah, where Interone is currently enjoying his freshman season with the Utes.

"It's going really well; I really love it out here," he said in a phone interview Wednesday evening. "I'm loving the mountains and the weather – it's sweatshirt weather out here right now – and all of my teammates and coaches are super nice and supportive.

"It's a good training environment, and even though it's a lot harder at this next level, everyone here has similar goals of getting better and helping each other push through the tough spots."

His first season in Salt Lake City hasn't been without adversity. Interone broke his left foot over the summer, suffering what is known as a lisfranc injury, where a metatarsal (toe) bone becomes fractured or dislocated from the tarsus (foot bone).

The rehab has been intense and prolonged, and only recently has Interone been able to get into the full-time training regimen of his Utes teammates.

"It's a pretty severe injury," Utah coach Joe Dykstra said. "The first third of the season, he was not able to train full-go, and it's taken some time since then to really adjust up to our full training load; it's a lot more than he's ever done before.

"Now that he's fully healthy, it's really starting to come together and click for him. I'm really excited to see what he can do here at the end of the season, then going into next season when he'll be healthy through the summer workouts."

Dykstra was the other wildcard when Interone stepped on campus last fall. Recruited by former Greg Winslow, Interone did not know exactly what to expect when he started working with Dkystra.

Dykstra was the head women's coach at the University of North Texas for the past 7 years, and replaced Winslow this past summer. Winslow was suspended, then let go by the university after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced from an incident involving a teenage girl on a club swim team in Arizona in 2007.

But Interone quickly warmed to Dykstra, who came through the ranks as a breaststroke coach, and has gotten to work quite a bit with the Utes' new head man.

"After getting the news over the summer, I wasn't positive how things were going to turn out," Interone said, "but it's been a blessing. Joe is such a great coach, his training style is similar to mine, and I love his workouts and his motivating ability. He's really done whatever he's needed to help me out through the injury, and it's been easy training with him. I'm swimming faster, my times are dropping, and it's all going good now."

Dykstra has been just as impressed with Interone. Not having recruited the kids he is now coaching, Dykstra has been a quick sell on the program he inherited, and Interone is definitely on the list of athletes he's glad to have on his squad.

"He's got pure natural speed, and he's made the adjustment training at this level," Dykstra said. "What he was lacking was the ability to finish the longer races we do at the collegiate level, but now we're seeing him be able to swim through it and maintain speed.

"With another 6 months of that, he should be a new athlete for us next fall, and that's what you want out of a freshman: to come in, learn, adapt and really excel their sophomore year."

Always a strong 100 breaststroker, Interone says it's been tough at times swimming the 200 breaststroke. He said he's still considered a 100 specialist, and holds the second-best time on the team in that event at 56.36 seconds, 78-hundredths behind the team leader.

But he's now getting the hang of the 200, where he has the fifth-best time on the team at 2:05.67 – but it's 4.39 seconds behind the Utes' leader.

"The 200 is definitely not as fun as the 100, but I'm getting the mentality where the longer race seems more doable, and it's not as terrifying as it was," Interone said. "It's been so much working on technique, just to build more speed and endurance.

"The really good thing is that it makes the 100 feel really awesome, an all-out sprint, and keeps it a lot of fun to swim my favorite race."

Interone's sights are set both in the short-term and long-term. Despite the injury, he still has a chance to make the competitive squad for the Pac-12 conference meet as one of 12 swimmers fighting for six spots.

He also would love to experience in the NCAA meet, but realizes that may be a goal for the future.

"It's cutthroat right now, with only six tickets left for conference," Interone said, "and everyday in practice is about proving you deserve a spot. It would be a real privilege to go compete with so many fast swimmers from those West Coast schools.

"Then, I don't know if it will be this year, probably more in the coming years, to make the cut as one of the top 32 swimmers in your event in the country at the NCAAs would be really cool. That's so prestigious, maybe even moreso than the Olympic trials, and those guys are faster than any cut out there. It's a longer-term goal, but hopefully I'll get there sooner rather than later."

Still, even with all the competition and intensity every day at practice, Interone is finding it easy – and beneficial – to keep his cool.

"I'm more worried about myself, not about the other guys," he said. "If I don't make it this year, it will be nice for the other guys who do make it, and I know they will deserve those spots. I'm just going to keep training, keep working hard, and having fun.

"That's what this is all about, and I'm going to keep enjoying it as much as I can."

Interone file

High school: Sterling (Class of 2013)

College: Utah

Year: Freshman

Sport: Swimming

FYI: Has Utes' second-best time in the 100 breaststroke (56.36 seconds), and fifth-best time in the 200 breaststroke (2:05.67). … Suffered a lisfranc injury in his left foot in the summer, and spent much of fall rehabbing it. … Finished fifth in the 100 breaststroke (56.75 seconds) at 2013 IHSA state meet, after a runner-up finish (57.55 seconds) in 2012. … Seth Rock Island Sectional record in 100 breaststroke as a junior (59.18 seconds), then broke that – & the UT pool record – as a senior (56.98 seconds).

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