Of all the high school athletes who have come through Northern Nevada over the decades, none have been as highly ranked as a recruit as Luke Hobson.
The graduate of Reno High who just finished his senior season with the Huskies is the No. 8 recruiting in the 2021 class, according to national swimming website SwimCloud.com. He's signed to swim for the defending NCAA champs, Texas. And next week he'll compete in the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in four events. Not bad for a guy who hasn't even started college.
This kind of success was forecasted early by his club swimming coach, Sharon Weiss, who knew almost immediately Hobson was special.
"Luke pretty much taught himself kind of some of the basics in his backyard pool and then showed up for stroke class," said Weiss, the head coach at Lakeridge Swim Club. "His parents said, 'Would you take a look at him and see if he's ready for stroke class?' And I was like, 'Yeah, he's ready.' He was in our stroke class for maybe not even a month and then just moved up immediately. The first day I saw him swim, it was really obvious. When a kid jumps in and they were born to swim, you know. That was Luke, for sure. Absolutely one of the best to come out of the whole state of Nevada."
Swimming is in Hobson's family bloodlines. His parents were both swimmers at USC while his older sister, Annika, is a junior on the swim team at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. While he was recruited by basically every Top 25 team in the nation, Hobson was quickly drawn to Texas.
"I would say it's the best program for NCAA swimming and now a 15-time national champion," Hobson said. "So I just knew that they would really help me become the swimmer that I want to be. They have a bunch of fast guys, and every day in practice is going to be like a race. So I think that's really gonna help me get better and much faster."
During Hobson's final meet with Reno High at the Northern 5A Regional championships last month, he crushed the Nevada state record for the 200-yard freestyle. That's one of the four events he'll compete in at this month's U.S. Olympic trials.
"One of the joys that a coach gets to witness, and it's something that I think for a lot of coaches, it's kind of like you dream about, but to watch Luke progress and develop really on point has been a real joy," Weiss said. "It's sort of helped frame a lot of what we do, why we do what we do, and it's been a really nice reminder for the importance of patience and really taking it slow, taking your time and watching kids really develop, and giving them the space and the opportunity to develop their craft, and their passion, which is what he has."
Swimming is a lifestyle for Hobson, training in the early hours of the morning and then again in the evening some days while balancing workouts in the weight room and his studies. Swimming is one of the most demanding sports to excel in, but Hobson puts in the hours. It's all a build up to posting record-breaking times.
"Before a race, I'll be pretty relaxed and focused in trying to get into the zone before I race and going through the last couple things that I'll focus on," Hobson said. "Once I hit the water, it's just kind of blank. I just know what I'm doing, so let's go through it."
While the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the Tokyo Olympics last summer, it was a boon for Hobson, who had an additional year to develop and qualify for the U.S. trials. He was at a meet in March 2020, then a junior in high school, when the meet was canceled due to COVID-19. That uncertainly at the time has proven to be fortitions for his career.
"I would have had a chance then (to qualify), but I don't know if I would have made the cuts or not," Hobson said.
With another year of training under his belt, Hobson qualified for trials at the Speedo Sectionals in St. George, Utah this March, hitting the time for the 400 freestyle.
"I knew what the cut was before I swam," Hobson said. "I was like, 'Yeah, I'm pretty sure I can do this. I think it's doable.' When I dove in full, I was feeling pretty good during the race. I just remember the last 100 it was hurting pretty bad, and I was, like, 'If I push through, I can probably get it,' and I remember touching the wall and seeing the time. It was right there, and I was pretty happy that I got it."
Not satisfied with qualifying for just one event in the trials, Hobson hit the required time in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle in May. Given the stakes of competing against the nation's best, Hobson said motivation has been easy to find the last several months.
"We got this great opportunity that we didn't actually know that we were going to have and it kind of came up and we decided we were going to go for it," Weiss said "And we did. He had tried one or two times previously and been just off the mark. He went out and from the very first 50, you could tell he was gonna make it. It was really cool. Very exciting."
Added Hobson: "I was much more excited to have more events and then the meet would be more fun and I could get more experience out of it. I've always knew the Olympic trials would be a step in the process that I wanted to achieve. I'm happy I'm there already. I wasn't sure I was gonna get it this go around with the Olympic year. So I thought it would maybe be four more years, but I'm happy it happened."
Weiss, who has been coaching for more than 30 years, has been to the Olympic trials before with her son, Michael, in 2012 and 2016. He was a standout at Wisconsin from 2009-2013 and among the elite swimmers in the country. Hobson is one of three local swimmers in this year's trials, being joined by Galena High junior Emma Karam and Bishop Manogue and Nevada graduate Donna dePolo. While Karam and dePolo both trained at Reno Aquatic Club, Weiss is proud of Northern Nevada's swimming success.
"One of the really cool things about being involved in sport is you don't have to be in the biggest town or the biggest facility," Weiss said. "If you have the ingredients, you can absolutely come from a small town in a smaller environment. We're one of the smaller teams in USA Swimming. It has to do with your talent, your drive, your work ethic, family support, local support, community support and Luke has really had all of those things. No matter what has happened, throughout his age group career, he's just kept going. No matter what has sort of seemed to stand in the way, he's just jumped right over each hurdle. So it really it speaks a lot to resilience and opportunity."
The Olympic trials begin Sunday at Omaha's CHI Health Center. Joining Hobson there will be his parents and coach. It's an opportunity Hobson has been striving toward for years.
"I know I'm gonna be pretty nervous," he said. "There are so many people and such fast swimmers. But I just think it's gonna be a great experience for the next four years, and so the next trials I'll go to, I'll be even more ready and know what it's like. I'm just going to do the best I can. Just leave it all in the pool. Just see how well I can do, and just see what happens. It's gonna be a great experience."