LAMBERTVILLE - Like most prep standouts, Kirstin Stark faced a quandary when making her college choice.
She could attend a big-name school in a big-name conference hours away from home, or she could stay close to her family and friends and attend her local university.
For the Bedford senior and Lambertville resident, it was an easy decision on where to continue her swimming career.
"It ended up being between Iowa and Toledo," Stark said. "Toledo was 10 minutes down the road, and Iowa was 7 1/2 hours away. So, of course I picked the one that was 10 minutes away."
Stark's parents, Randy and Cindy, are UT graduates, and her sister Kara attends the school.
"It was so close to home and I felt more comfortable being there," Stark said.
"Plus the coaches were really nice, and they have a really good, strong team. I'm excited to be a part of that."
Stark started swimming at age 9 at the Green Hills pool in her neighborhood at the urging of her dad, a former swimmer.
What followed has been nothing short of spectacular.
Stark recently finished up her swimming career at Bedford, where she was a four-time state qualifier and holds at least a share of eight school records.
"She's just really strong," said Stark's club swim coach, Jeremy Layman of South Michigan Aquatic Club.
"She's a hard worker, and that helps her a lot. I know UT is a very hard-working team. The coach there, [Lars Jorgensen], really does push them, and if he can just duplicate that with her, she'll do real well. She'll be one of the best butterflyers and sprinters that they have there."
At the 2009 state meet, Stark grabbed four medals. She placed third in the 50-yard freestyle with a season-best time of 23.92, fourth in the 100 butterfly in 57.83, fourth in the 200 free relay in a school record 1:38.91, and fifth in the 400 free relay in 3:37.90.
Joining Stark on the 200 relay team were Hanna Martin and Annie Pennington, along with Stark's younger sister Kelsey.
"At the beginning of the season, she always was like, 'I want to swim in a relay with you,' and I told her, 'OK, just work hard,'•" Kirstin Stark said.
"She's just a freshman, so it was really cool. When I was a freshman, I didn't even place top 16 [at the state meet], and she comes in and swims with me and gets fourth in the state. I was really happy for her."
Now, Stark is preparing for her next challenge when she joins the Rockets in the fall.
"I want to make it to the NCAA championships," said Stark, who plans to major in psychology. "And hopefully I can get top-eight in my events at the Mid-American Conference championships, and maybe even be a MAC champion someday."
Jorgensen sees a bright future for Stark, one of eight recruits joining the Rockets next season.
"Kirstin's a sprinter who has a lot of natural speed," Jorgensen said. "If she comes in and works hard, she has a chance to be pretty good."
Contact Zach Silka at: firstname.lastname@example.org.