February 11, 2010
True Blue: Stranski enjoys swim success
Prep Focus • St. Mary’s Academy star caps prep career, with Kansas ahead
The Portland Tribune, Feb 11, 2010
Kara Stranski walked into the Seattle’s Best coffee shop near St. Mary’s Academy wearing designer jeans, gray Ugg boots and a very loud-blue University of Kansas sweatshirt. Her fingernails were painted pink, and the word “LOVE” was grafted to her right forearm like a tattoo.
“No, my friend drew this!” Stranski said, laughing. “It’s not a tattoo, I swear.I don’t have any tattoos.”
The non-tattoo had been drawn on Stranski’s arm that day during her history class.
“People were taking quizzes, and we finished,” Stranski said. “I’m a good student, I swear.”
It is relatively easy to believe that Stranski does not have any tattoos. The St. Mary’s senior’s most common expression is, “Oh, my goodness,” followed closely by “Oh, my gosh.” When friends call Stranski’s cell phone, they get to listen to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” while waiting for her to pick up.
The St. Mary’s senior switches to music other than Taylor Swift just before she begins a swim race.
“I’m —what’s the word, not superficial — superstitious,” she said, smiling at the moment of confusion.
Stranski, a standout swimmer for the Blues who will compete for the Kansas Jayhawks next season, listens to just one song, over and over, before she races. Recently, that song has been Fort Minor’s “Remember the Name.”
She also has to have two pairs of goggles behind her block, just in case she breaks a pair. And the only style statement Stranski makes is her need to always wear a blue swim cap.
“I just zone out and don’t talk to anyone,” she said.
Her personality metamorphosis during swim meets has helped made her one of the best female sprinters to come out of Portland in recent years. She is a high school All-American and was the Mt. Hood Conference swimmer of the year in 2009. Her times of 23.67 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle and 51.61 in the 100 free have earned her the scholarship to Kansas.
“Swimming is all about times,” Kansas coach Clark Campbell said. “She’s a really good swimmer. That’s what piqued our interest. Getting to know her more through the recruiting process, she has a really outgoing, bubbly personality.”
Stranski grew up in Northeast Portland and attended Madeleine and Alameda schools. She began swimming on the Irvington Tennis Club summer league squad when she was 6. At 10, she was advised to join the Portland Aquatic Club. She has been swimming for that club ever since.
Stranski divided her attention for a while between swimming and horseback riding. Her coaches said she could have a future as an equestrian. She chose swimming.
“Horseback riding is more of an individual sport, where swimming is more of a community sport,” she said. “I wanted the closeness of friends and the sense of community.”
When she was 11, Stranski placed second in the 50 breaststroke at the 12-and-under state championships.
“That’s when my dad likes to tell me things took off,” she said.
Stranski cannot help smiling when she talks about her father, Monty.
“My dad is like the soccer mom, but for swimming,” she said. “And I love him to death, but he’s like, really intense. He’s been like a strong pillar.”
Being a swimmer is time-consuming. Stranski swims Monday through Friday from 6 to 7 a.m., and from 4 to 6:30 p.m. On Saturdays, she swims from 7 to 9:30 a.m. Her weekends are usually spent doing homework or going to meets.
She has traveled around the country, going to swimming meets with PAC coach Jody Braden. In December, when the two were in Columbus, Ohio, they went to the restaurant Thurman, of “Man vs. Food” fame. The two split a 24-ounce burger and fries.
“Kara is notorious for how much she can eat for an elite athlete,” Braden said. “She did a good job (on the burger). She could have made a pretty good run at eating it alone.”
Monty Stranski laughed when he heard the story.
“She’d be a charter member at In-N-Out Burger,” he said, quickly adding that given the calories a swimmer burns in the water, the eating is not as overindulgent as it may sound.
For the last four years, Stranski has swum for both PAC and St. Mary’s. A lot of top swimmers abandon their high school teams for the stronger club competition, but Stranski says she likes that “high school swimming is more of a bonding experience.” And as for St. Mary’s, “oh, my gosh, I’ve loved it,” she said.
Monty and Kara made sure that colleges noticed her times. They began e-mailing her marks to coaches when she was a freshman.
“Kara started recruiting us,” Kansas coach Campbell said. “When the student-athlete takes the initiative to start the process, I’ve always found those are generally special kids. They are go-getters, and they’re tenacious.”
Stranski’s first recruiting trip was to Kansas. She immediately knew it was where she wanted to go. Stranski smiled very widely when she talked about being offered a scholarship by the Jayhawks. “It felt amazing,” she said. “All my hard work had paid off.”
Before heading off to Kansas, Stranski still has the high school swimming season to finish. St. Mary’s has one of the top girls teams in the state and comes from a conference that includes deep and talented David Douglas. Last year, Stranski won the state 50 free and helped the Blues’ 200 medley relay capture the state title, as well.
Monty Stranski said that one of her daughter’s goals is to set a state record at the state meet Feb. 19-20 at Mt. Hood Community College.
“She’s a neighborhood girl, and she’s been that way all her life,” Monty Stranski said. “She’s so quiet, and then she’s so determined. She’s (also) known to be a gunslinger.She just takes people out (in the water) on her own accord.”