Simply put, Aspen Monkhouse wants more.
A year after a surprise appearance and fifth-place finish in 50-yard freestyle at the Class 4A state swim meet, the South Kitsap senior is steadfastly determined to top her personal best of 24.6 seconds in the sprint.
“It’s ambitious, but I want to see if I can break the state record in the 50 free,” she said.
If Monkhouse can shatter the 22.92 set in 2008 by Mt. Rainier’s Leona Jennings, count her coach among those who would not be surprised.
“She’s got 23 speed in her,” said Cliff Rousell, who is entering his sixth year with the Wolves. “She’s definitely a gifted swimmer and is blessed with a lot of fast-twitch muscles.
“It’s not very often as a coach that you get to see athletes built like this.”
Monkhouse leads a group of 42 South Kitsap swimmers that Rousell said includes “returning veterans and some newcomers that are showing some ability in the water.”
Among the standouts are freshman Jessica Lee and sophomore Hana Marks in the 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley, junior Kylie Dodge in the individual medley and 100 butterfly, senior Chloe Meyers in the 100 breaststroke and senior Sara Drum on the diving board.
As for Monkhouse, the season is off to a good start. She made the state cut in both the 50 and 100 freestyle in South Kitsap’s first meet of the season, a 111-51 loss Sept. 15 against North Kitsap — and may have broken the school record for the 50 with a relay split of 24.07.
“I took off four seconds from last year’s 100 time,” she said. “That really was unexpected for me.”
Monkhouse is used to the unexpected. Last year, she was the Cinderella story of the West Central District III meet, dropping two seconds in the consolation finals of the 50 freestyle to clock the third-fastest time — and earn a state berth. With bronchitis, no less.
“I had a 26 the whole season,” she said. “Get a top-three time at districts, go to state and keep taking time off — that is not something that I’ve really been able to do.”
Rousell said he expects Monkhouse to be even better this year.
“A lot of the physical maladies that she’s had to endure the last few seasons seem to have left her behind,” he said.
“It’s just going to be a really enjoyable trip for her on this journey to state.”
Monkhouse said swimming on the state’s biggest stage was an “interesting” experience.
“I felt the hype,” she said. “You walk into the room and you just get buzzed. There was energy everywhere.”
What was surreal a year ago is slowly becoming reality.
“It’s just hitting me now how real it is,” she said. “I actually had a college call me and say, ‘Hey, we’re basically building our team from the ground up and we want you.’ ”
She isn’t sure whether the University of Sioux Falls is on the list, but college is definitely on the mind of the San Diego native who moved to Port Orchard at age 7.
“I’m trying to narrow it down,” said Monkhouse, who plans to go into the medical field. “I know I’m probably not going to want to go to a Division I school because that’s going to be way too big. I’m thinking Division II or Division III is a better fit for me as far as competition goes and as far as the training.”
Monkhouse carries a 3.87 grade-point average with a full load that includes Advanced Placement calculus, physics and Honors English.
“I’m definitely not taking it easy senior year,” she said. “I didn’t want to slack off and figure out that college was going to suck.”
Monkhouse, the team’s captain, said she is hoping that one of South’s relays will qualify for state so she is not the lone Wolf in her final appearance.
“I don’t want to be the only one this year,” she said. “It would be nice to have some of my teammates with me.”
Even though she is coming to the end of her high school swimming career, Monkhouse still is thinking about the program’s future.
“I’m really hoping that a couple of the girls might try and follow in my footsteps,” she said, “and want it as much as I do.”