By Dan Arritt     2/24/2015

An electric year of sports competition is nearly two-thirds over, but the Trinity League’s most decorated athlete is just getting started.

Katie McLaughlin of the Santa Margarita girls’ swim team, who set a national high school record in the 100-yard butterfly last spring, is back for her senior season and she’s slicing through the pool faster than ever.

McLaughlin took her development to another level during the summer, finishing runner-up in the 200-meter butterfly at the Phillips 66 National Championships in early August in Irvine. Coupled with her third-place finish in the same event at the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia two weeks later, she earned her first berth on the U.S. National Team.

McLaughlin, who turns 18 on July 9, committed to swim at the University of California starting in the fall, and the Olympic Trials and a potential berth on the 2016 Olympic team top the list for next year.

“Every swimmer’s dream is to be at the trials,” she says.

But before McLaughlin can begin sizing up that competition, she’s looking forward to another fun and successful season with her high school team.

“Obviously, I want to swim fast,” she says of her plans for the high school season. “But I want the team to do well and have a good experience.”

McLaughlin nearly single-handedly led the Eagles to the Southern Section Division I team title last season, setting her national record in the 100 fly in 51.78 seconds, bettering the previous mark of 51.92 set by Jasmine Tosky of Palo Alto High in 2011.

She also broke her own Division I meet record in the 200 freestyle (1:44.66), anchored the winning 200 free relay (1:34.64) and the meet-ending 400 free relay (3:24.32). Santa Margarita came up short of Division I records in the 200 and 400 free relays, marks McLaughlin helped establish the year before while swimming for JSerra.

McLaughlin was coached by her mother her first two seasons at JSerra. Mary McLaughlin was better known as Mary Birdsell when she was one of the top swimmers in Southern California during the early 1980s. Mary won seven individual section titles at Wilson High School of Hacienda Heights, setting a U.S. high school record in the 50 free. She later swam for USC and competed in the Olympic Trials in 1980 and 1984.

Katie McLaughlin says JSerra eventually “wasn’t a good fit for us” and she transferred to Santa Margarita last February.

McLaughlin says one of the reasons she never tires of swimming is because she was never forced into the pool. She tried a variety of other sports when she was younger but settled on swimming when she was 9.

“I’m pretty hard on myself and hold myself to high expectations,” she says. “I don’t need other influences pushing me.”

McLaughlin says she kept a close eye on the Olympians she competed against over the summer, watched how they dressed before meets, how they warmed up and, most importantly, how they reacted after not performing to their usual expectations.

“When I didn’t post my best time, I thought it was the end of the world,” she says.

Now, she’s part of an exclusive group that will represent the U.S. this year and, she hopes, in 2016 as well. Before she can turn her attention to that competition, she looks forward to enjoying her final high school season.