By the time your eyes first find this column, there’s a good chance Christian Hockenbury has already established himself as the fastest swimmer in Mater Dei history.
Not bad for someone who still considers himself a seasonal swimmer, opting to spend more time training and competing in water polo throughout the year.
Hockenbury came within a blink an eye of breaking school records in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events on April 23 at the Foothill Swim Games. With the most competitive stretch of the season yet on the horizon following that meet, there stood a good chance he’d continue to lower his times.
“He’s the best swimmer I’ve ever been around,” said Mater Dei coach Ken Dory, whose former pupils include four-time Olympic gold medalist Jason Lezak.
Hockenbury, a junior, not only possesses the potential and results to go down as the greatest swimmer in Mater Dei history, but in swimming-rich Orange County as well.
He wasn’t exactly unknown coming into the high school season, finishing second in the 100 free at last season’s Trinity League finals, the only non-senior among the top nine, but he’s churning through the water at another level this spring.
“He’s gotten a lot bigger since last year,” Dory said. “As he’s getting bigger, he’s going to get that much faster, but he definitely understands what needs to happen. It’s amazing that he’s not training as a swimmer, yet knows all that he knows.”
Hockenbury won the 100 free in a lifetime-best 45.85 seconds at the Foothill Swim Games, just four-tenths off the school record set by Patrick White in 2007, a mark that was still considered the 20th-fastest all-time in Orange County heading into this season.
By comparison, Hockenbury finished second in the league finals last season in 49.33.
He also won the 50 free in a personal-best 20.94 at the Foothill Swim Games, putting him well within reach of the school record (20.80) set by Matthew Payne in 2014.
He’s a key figure on the 200 and 400 free relays for the Monarchs, too, and can also score points in the 200 free, as he did with his fourth-place finish in the event at last season’s league finals.
Dory said he’s able to have long discussions with Hockenbury on the strategy of team swimming competitions–mainly how to best maximize talent on the entry sheet–and Hockenbury fully understands the minutiae.
“I don’t know how he does that,” Dory said. “Usually, only coaches know that, so it makes me think that he’s doing research.”
If he is doing his homework, Hockenbury is squeezing it into a packed schedule that includes regular practices with his water polo team. He played on the Mater Dei junior varsity team last fall as a junior, and is expected to be a varsity contributor next season, when the Monarchs attempt to defend their CIF-SS Division I title.
Hockenbury has deep family roots at USC, where his older brother, Blake, played water polo for the Trojans in 2007 and ‘08. If he should get the opportunity to continue swimming and playing competitive water polo at a major Division I college, Hockenbury would join a rare group.
The most well-known, dual-aquatic athlete is Matt Biondi, who helped the University of California, Berkeley, to three NCAA water polo titles and also won eight individual NCAA swimming titles before winning eight Olympic Gold Medals in 1984, ‘88 and ‘92.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Dory said of Hockenbury’s future in swimming. “But he definitely has it all in place.”