Neal Wolfram remembers a time when he was younger – somewhere between the ages of 6 and 10, he says – when he took his time before getting in the pool.
“I hated getting wet, I hated being cold, so it would just take forever for me to get the motivation to hop in the water,” he said. “At some points, the coaches would have to bribe me and just try to convince me to get in the water and eventually I would.”
Now, he’s preparing to start swimming at the Division I level.
On Friday, the South Warren senior thanked those coaches who developed him “from a kid who took 30 minutes to get into the pool, into one who will now compete at the collegiate level,” along with family, teammates and administrators before signing to continue his career at Miami (Ohio).
“It feels great,” he said. “I’m really excited just to get there and start working hard and working on getting my education as well.”
Wolfram is the first swimmer from South Warren to sign at the Division I level, and it’s something coach Neil Romney is hoping can provide inspiration to his teammates, who Romney credits for helping Wolfram reach this point.
“This is a great opportunity for the other swimmers on the team to realize, ‘Hey, this is possible for Neal. He’s my teammate and we swim with him every day, so it’s possible for us too,’ ” Romney said. “It just broadens their understanding and we hope it will raise their aspirations, or at least open them up to that possibility. That’s what I’m optimistic about.”
Miami wasn’t on Wolfram’s radar at first, he says, but he remembered former teammate Sam Sutton. Sutton, a Bowling Green graduate, is a freshman on the team this year.
“I just decided to email them and look into them and then once I finally did more research, it looked like the place I wanted to be and would love to spend the next four years,” Wolfram said.
The signing comes after an already-impressive career at South Warren, with still over a month to go in the high school season and more time with his club team, Race Aquatics.
Wolfram has competed in several events, including the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays in last year’s Region 2 meet in Owensboro. The 200 relay team finished second and the 400 was first. On the team were brothers Trey and Drew Wolfram, as well as Logan Hughes, but Trey was a senior. Now Neal is a senior and, with some new faces around him, he’s taken on more of a leadership role.
He won the 200-yard freestyle at last year’s region meet with a time of 1:43.00, but the event he’s really shined in is the 500 free. He won it at last year’s Region 2 meet with a time of 4:39.12, breaking his own region record set in 2017 by nearly five seconds. He finished third in the state in the 500 free and sixth in the 400 free relay.
Romney has coached Wolfram for two years now, and remembers his first impression of Wolfram being his “big engine.”
“You’ve got to be able to drive it, too, and he’s willing to do that and he’s very analytical, which is a huge benefit, especially in the longer races where pace becomes more critical,” Romney said. “He can go and go and go and come back for more.”
The South Warren coach also credits Wolfram’s engine in practice for much of the success he’s had at the high school level. Romney says Wolfram has seen mixed results this season, but is poised to swim his best times at the end of the season.
“We did a predictor set the other day, for example, for the 500 free, and from that you say, ‘OK, from that, in two or three weeks you guys should be able to swim about this,’ ” Romney said.
“I’d be surprised if he swims that fast at his predictive time at the meet just because he swims so close to max in practice. It’s very unusual to get swimmers who can push themselves to that level.”
Before Wolfram heads to Miami, he still has competitions at the high school level, including the Region 2 meet Feb. 7 and 8 in Owensboro and the state meet, as well as club meets, to try to improve on a swimming career that started with coaches motivating him to just get in the water.
“I’ve seen myself grow a ton, whether that’s just in my improvements in the water and now, as a senior, having to try and be a leader on the team, someone that people can look up to and hopefully see how they should work and get faster,” Wolfram said. “Now that we’re going into our last regional and state, hopefully we can have a really good finish and one of the best that our school’s had.”