At the rate Breanna Sapienza is progressing in the pool, the optimism surrounding the 13-year-old is justifiable.

At the rate Breanna Sapienza is progressing in the pool, the optimism surrounding the 13-year-old is justifiable.

Sapienza, a member of the Triton Swim Team, holds the 11th best time in the country in the short course, 100-yard butterfly among females in her age group at 56.68 seconds.

Though she's just a seventh-grader at Grace Christian, Sapienza's time would have placed her third last season at the Oregon high school Class 6A state meet.

"She's showing a tremendous amount of progress and future ability," says Triton coach Robin Brickenden. "I know that she can get to the top of the pile. She's swimming so well so young."

Sapienza qualified for the Short Course Junior National Championships in Columbus, Ohio, in December after winning the Northwest Age Group Sectionals in Federal Way, Wash., in late March that featured competitors from 11 Western states.

She also qualified in the 50-yard freestyle after placing second — she ranks among the top 20 nationally in that event — and hopes to qualify for the long course junior nationals at a meet in Santa Clara, Calif., this summer.

Under Brickenden's tutelage, Sapienza has cut eight percent off her time in the 100 fly since September and almost 20 percent since joining Triton nearly two years ago.

"She's made a remarkable drop," Brickenden says. "We picked off the big chunk, and now we whittle it down. At the rate she's dropping — she can't do eight percent every year — but if in three years she can do four percent a year, she'd be able to make the Olympic trials cuts."

That's a fascinating projection and one derived from a dedication far beyond Sapienza's years.

She spends two hours per day, five days a week, in the pool at OZ Fitness in Medford, in addition to her regular strength training routine.

She takes just 2-3 weeks off from swimming each year and competes nearly every month.

"We're really proud of her," says Rick Sapienza, Breanna's father. "She works hard six to seven days a week. It builds a lot of character. It's a very difficult sport that takes a lot of commitment and personal sacrifice. We're amazed."

Sapienza was immediately drawn to the sport. She received swimming lessons at the YMCA soon after her ninth birthday and opted to give the swim team a try.

"After that first meet, she just ran away with it," Rick Sapienza says. "She enjoyed the ribbons and stuff."

There's been plenty of those.

She won four titles at the 11-and-over Long Course Championships in Eugene last July, finishing second overall, and competes for an Oregon all-star team.

"I like the camaraderie (of swimming) and knowing you can get good rewards," Breanna says. "It's just a fun sport."

The Sapienzas discovered Brickenden through his work with another young phenom, South Medford freshman Aaron Ghiglieri, who held the fastest 50 freestyle time (21.13) in the country for 14-year-olds.

"We watched Aaron and his successes and liked what Robin was putting together," Rick Sapienza says. "He's an incredible coach. His love for the sport I haven't seen in any other coaches."

Brickenden constructed the Triton Swim Team near the time Sapienza joined two years ago. The team is now composed of eight swimmers ranging in age from 8 to 17. He will take four swimmers to junior nationals.

Brickenden began his swimming career as a 15-year-old in Canada. He said he missed making the Canadian Olympic Team by a few 10ths of a second. He later studied physiology and kinesiology in college before touring the world for 25 years as a drummer in a band before relocating to the Rogue Valley and discovering his knack for coaching.

"He's a really great coach," Breanna Sapienza says. "He always wants us to do our best, and he loves our success. He helps us get to our goals. We are one of the smallest teams in Oregon, but we are one of the tops in the nation."

A big reason for that is the efforts of Sapienza.

"When she (Breanna) started with Robin, we realized that her potential could go beyond this just being a fun sport," Rick Sapienza says. "Ideally this could provide for her college education or even more."

Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail landrews@mailtribune.com