Durango senior hopes to cap career with swimming title

Nick McDowell knew the question was coming and let out a chuckle as if to say, “I know, right?”

McDowell, a senior for the Durango boys swimming team, has a spot in the Olympic Trials already locked up.

He’s signed a letter of intent with Purdue.

And yet, he’s never won a state title during the high school season. What gives?

“There’s just always been people kind of in front of me,” McDowell said. “There’s just always been someone a little better, and I think that’s kind of motivated me throughout the years swimming.”

McDowell shouldn’t have to worry about being behind often this season. He is the state’s top returner in the 500-yard freestyle after finishing second at the Division I state meet as a junior and also is a contender in the 200 freestyle.

If he’s successful at state two months from now, McDowell would be the first Durango swimmer to win a state title since Corban Fleming in 2007 (100 breaststroke).

“He inspires the other kids a lot. They look up to him,” Durango coach Evelynne Hernandez said. “Every single meet he pushes himself. He’s very supportive of all his teammates, and he works really hard.”

McDowell is the youngest of four children, all of whom swam for Durango. His brother, Timothy, was a walk-on at Duke and a four-year letterwinner from 2008 to 2011.

Following a breakout season in 2014 with the Sandpipers of Nevada club program, McDowell qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 1,500-meter freestyle when he finished second to Sandpipers teammate Logan Houck at the NCSA Junior National Championships last summer.

McDowell said his focus over the coming months is to also qualify in the 400-meter freestyle.

“It will be really cool to race against the best in the nation and compete against all of them in Omaha (Nebraska),” McDowell said. “I kind of knew I would get it at the meet I got it at because that was the second time coming from the Olympic training center. We went to that meet after all that training, so it was kind of expected that I would get it, to me at least.”

Houck stood in McDowell’s path at the past two state meets, too. As a sophomore, McDowell was third in the 500 freestyle behind Palo Verde’s Houck and Carter Grimes of Centennial. Last season, McDowell finished second as Houck, now a freshman at Harvard, set a state record in the event (4 minutes, 27.90 seconds).

Only two swimmers, Houck and Boulder City’s Zane Grothe, have been under 4:30 in the 500 free, according to the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association record book. McDowell went a personal-best 4:25.95 during the club season in December.

“I think this year’s kind of like my year since I’m a senior,” McDowell said. “I’m just trying to get better every day and be the best I can be.”

Contact reporter David Schoen at or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ