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Chelsea Chenault competes in the Women's 400 LC Meter Freestyle for the 45th Annual Santa Clara International Swim Meet in San Clara, Calif. on Friday, June 1, 2012. She finished in second place. (Nhat V. Meyer/Staff)

Carondelet High's Chelsea Chenault called her sophomore swimming season "a wake-up call."

She felt much better about this year, a bounce-back junior campaign. "But I wasn't entirely happy," Chenault said.

Consider the 17-year-old an extremely tough grader.

Chenault, one of the country's top middle distance freestyle specialists, set personal bests in winning the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events at the East Bay Athletic League championships in May.

She didn't go faster at the North Coast Section finals a week later -- the reason for her slight disappointment. But Chenault still blew away the field as she collected two individual gold medals and a meet record in the 500 freestyle, earning her East Bay Girls Swimmer of the Year honors.

Chenault didn't just dominate locally. Her NCS finals times in the 500 freestyle (4:38.05) and 200 freestyle (1:44.76) were among the best in the nation. She also helped Carondelet set a NCS standard in the 400 freestyle relay in prelims with a blazing leadoff leg of 49.64 that came close to the 100 freestyle record.

Eye-popping times are the norm for Chenault, who has long been considered one of California's most promising young swimmers. As a freshman, she announced her presence at the NCS meet by smashing a 17-year-old record in preliminaries of the 500 freestyle.

Chenault was on local swimming fans' radar even before that. As a 13-year-old middle schooler, she competed in the 2008 Olympic trials. She had been with a year-round program, the Concord Terrapins, for only nine months when she raced on one of the world's biggest stages.

When Chenault returns to Omaha, Neb., later this month to compete for a spot in the London Olympics, she expects a much different experience.

Though she isn't counting on anything, Chenault is a legitimate contender for a top six finish in the 200-meter freestyle. That would earn her a place on the 800-meter freestyle relay team at the Olympics.

"I've had so many more swims under my belt. I've gotten to mature and improve everything about my swimming," said Chenault, who has competed all over the world as a member of the U.S. junior and youth national teams. "I'm hoping to have some swims that show people who I am."