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Growing in Confidence, Jordan Crooks Building on Fab Freshman Season

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Growing in Confidence, Jordan Crooks Looks to Build on Fabulous Freshman Season

There was no shortage of headliners in the final of the 50 freestyle at the 2022 NCAA Men’s Championships.

The odds-on favorite was Olympic gold medalist Brooks Curry. There was another American Olympian, Drew Kibler, in the A final, plus a who’s who of aspirants to be the next American sprint stars. In all, the final’s eight lanes housed five Olympians.

In among them, forcing his way into the conversation, was a sprinter from the Cayman Islands who would not let himself be taken lightly.

Jordan Crooks knew he belonged in that final heat at NCAAs. His performance proved the point, tying for third in a time of 18.60 seconds, with the University of Virginia’s Matt Brownstead. The Tennessee freshman’s successful opening foray inspired a major point of emphasis in his second collegiate season: A mindset shift that he belongs with the best of the best.

Jordan Crooks; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“I was really happy with my performance,” Crooks told Swimming World recently. “It was really new to me, and I learned a lot. I think it was a really cool meet to be a part of, because I was able to see a lot of different techniques that I didn’t really know about or had only heard about, and race some really impressive guys.”

Crooks has become one of those impressive guys. He might not have the lofty pedigree or notable background yet, but his talent and evolving mentality put him in that conversation.

NCAA’s was one of the biggest meets he’s swum at, after representing the Caymans at the 2019 World Championships. Five All-American certificates, including fifth in the 100 free, announced his arrival in college swimming. He added seven medals at the SEC Championships, including gold in the 50 free, silver in the 100 free and bronze in the 100 butterfly.

He parlayed his NCAAs swims into a big summer. At the World Championships in Budapest, he finished 19th in the 50 free, setting a national record of 22.00 seconds, and 22nd in the 100 free.

“It was a great year, but I think after that, I learned a lot in terms of how I swim the races, and so I think I have a lot more to improve on,” Crooks said. “There’s a bunch of things that I’d like to try and that I haven’t tried yet. You can always be faster, you can always be sharper, quicker, so I’m looking forward to racing again this year and trying out some of those things.”

Crooks’ lack of the Olympian distinction is a numbers game. Brett Fraser represented the Cayman Islands as its Universality swimmer in 2021, finishing finished 33rd in the 50 free in Tokyo. He had made the semis of the 100 free and 200 free in London in 2012, with brother Shaune Fraser also in the 100 free semis. The duo swam more expansive programs in 2008, and Shaune qualified in the 200 free in 2004. Both standouts at the University of Florida, the Fraser brothers “paved the way for Cayman swimming,” Crooks said, giving him an SEC pathway to follow.

The Frasers’ omnipresence kept Crooks out of Tokyo, though he did watch as younger sister Jillian Crooks served as the only Cayman woman to qualify. Jordan is the more established swimmer, but Jillian got the chance in Tokyo. A member of the high school class of 2024 who has also committed to Tennessee, she was one of the country’s flagbearers.

“I felt really proud, watching my little sister go out there,” Jordan said. “She handled herself better than any kid her age that I’ve seen. It was an awesome feeling, knowing that I’m related to an Olympian.”

The goal for 2024 is for both to represent their country in Paris. To get that, Jordan Crooks is learning and improving with each swim. He’s always looking for little things to incorporate to his race. Seeing top sprinters up close on the international circuit this summer has reinforced the importance of his mental approach, his confidence behind the blocks and his ability to zone in psychologically.

It all comes back to races like that NCAA final. Crooks knew intuitively that he belonged. Knowing that helped him perform like it.

He often revisits a conversation with long-time Cayman coach Caleb Miller, who relocated to Alaska where he’s coached Jillian in high school the last two years. Approaching a race with confidence is a bit part of the task, and the more work Jordan accrues, the more solid his faith in that work becomes.

“I think I know what I’ve done,” he said. “My coach Caleb used to always told me, you can trust in what you’ve done in practice leading up to your races. There shouldn’t be any questions in your mind of what you’re capable of. You know what you’re capable of. When you step up behind the blocks, you’ve trained for it and you just need to execute it.”



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