Wheeling’s Sunseri qualifies for Olympic Trials
As it pertains to goals and dreams, Mia Sunseri isn’t unlike any other swimmer in this country.
She wants to swim in an Olympic Games, representing the United States of America.
The difference from many high-school-aged swimmers and Sunseri, however, lies in the fact that she will have a chance to go after her dream in June at the U.S. Olympic Trials, which will be held in Omaha.
The Wheeling Park senior qualified for the trials in the 200 breaststroke with a fourth-place finish in the U.S. Open in Richmond last weekend.
“Making the Olympic Trials has been a goal of mine ever since I started swimming at six years old,” Sunseri said. “I couldn’t be more excited for the experience and opportunity to compete against former and future Olympians.”
Sunseri is coached by her father, Anthony. He was a collegiate swimmer at Pitt from 1992-96. Being able to share the moment with her dad added to the excitement of qualifying.
“The moment was truly awesome and amazing. It’s something I’ll never forget,” Sunseri said. “It was an amazing feeling to look up at the scoreboard and see that I made the cut. The first person I looked to was my dad on the side of the pool deck. There were definitely some (happy) tears for the pure joy and excitement I had.”
Sunseri indicated the trials became a legitimate goal when she looked at the board after she finished second at the YMCA Nationals in 2018.
“I went 2:34.77, which was a four-second drop and would have qualified for the 2016 trials,” Sunseri said. “The 2020 standards hadn’t been released at that time, but I realized that I had a great shot at (qualifying) and I needed to continue to work toward the goal and dream I had.”
Unfortunately, Sunseri came up short twice of posting the time needed to get her to the Olympic Trials, which were originally scheduled for this year. She swam at both the YMCA Nationals and the U.S. Open.
Her third try at qualifying for the 2020 Trials was denied by COVID-19. The 2020 YMCA Nationals, which were scheduled for April in Greensboro, were canceled.
Sunseri gained a second chance when the IOC postponed the Summer Olympics by one year because of the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic.
“Trials were still on my radar when I learned of the Olympics being postponed,” Sunseri said.
Before she could shift any attention to the Trials, Sunseri had to earn her way into the U.S. Open, which she did by virtue of her times at the YMCA Nationals in 2019. She actually earned her way into that meet in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes as well as the 400 IM, but didn’t swim the IM to make sure she was fresh for her two specialties.
Obviously, Sunseri would love to advance through as many qualifying rounds as possible when she arrives in Omaha and have a chance at earning her way onto the Olympic team. However, she’s also realistic at the same time.
“Olympic Trials is unlike any swim meet and USA Swimming makes it a production,” Sunseri said. “I am just thankful and grateful for the opportunity to swim there. I am really looking forward to the experiences I will gain. I just want to ‘soak in’ (everything).”
The next several months leading up to Omaha could be especially challenging for Sunseri. Sports — including her YMCA Club swim team — are shuttered in West Virginia until Jan. 11. On top of that, the 2021 YMCA Nationals are already canceled, leaving Sunseri unsure when her “next big meet will be.”
“It’s difficult to find pool space and time due to the club team not being able to hold organized practices,” Sunseri said. “I am getting back to work and training, though, at a more gradual pace than what I would normally do if the circumstances were normal.”
From June until September, Sunseri trained ‘long course’ at the Martins Ferry Pool with the rest of her YMCA teammates. As the weather changed and Ferry’s pool closed, she went back to ‘short course’ at Linsly.
“I love swimming long course because it’s a lot different,” Sunseri said. “There is ‘nowhere to hide’ in the middle of the pool in long course (meters). I am very grateful for the individuals at Martins Ferry to provide the opportunities to train there this summer.”
Sunseri’s swimming resume is highly impressive. She was the YMCA National Champion in 2019 in the 200 breaststroke and a multiple-time Junior National and U.S. Open qualifier.
She also stands out in the classroom at Wheeling Park. She’s a member of the National Honor Society and is a three-time USA Swimming Scholastic All-American.
Sunseri will follow in her father’s footsteps and swim at Pitt, continuing the long family legacy of Panther athletes. Her great uncle, Sal, was an All-American football player at Pitt and her second cousin, Tino, played quarterback for the Panthers.
“I couldn’t be more excited to join Pitt’s team and family,” Sunseri said. “Carrying on my family’s legacy and attending (Pitt) are truly a dream come true.”