A berth on the U.S. men’s national team seemed a likely destination when Grant Shoults was shattering swim records at Santa Margarita High School.
After two years at Stanford in which his progression stagnated at times, Shoults finally experienced that rush of relief and satisfaction on July 28, finishing second in the 400-meter freestyle at the Phillips 66 National Championships in Irvine to earn his first spot on the national team.
“Just a lot of relief,” he told a group of reporters afterward. “It’s really nice to make the big-boy team. It’s been a long time coming, for sure.”
Two weeks later, he was competing with his new teammates at the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo.
Shoults finished fourth in the 400 freestyle and second among Americans at the Pan Pac, securing a spot on the U.S. team that will compete at the 2019 World Championships next July in South Korea.
Competing against the best swimmers in the world first started coming into focus during his junior year at Santa Margarita.
Shoults initially put his name in the national high school record book in the spring of 2015, winning the 200-yard freestyle at the CIF-SS finals in 1:34.54. That broke a 24-year-old national private high school mark in the event, one of two records that pre-dated 2000.
The following year, he broke the national high school record in both the 200 and 500 freestyles.
Shoults was named the Orange County Register Swimmer of the Year in 2015 and 2016, and Swimming World’s Male High School Swimmer of the Year for 2015-16.
Shoults brought his talents to Stanford, winning a Pac-12 title in the 500 freestyle as a freshman, finishing second in the 1,650 and 800 frees and third in the 200 free. At the NCAA Championships, he broke the school record in the 500 free while finishing fourth.
He defended his conference title and lowered his school record in the 500 free last season. However, he recorded another fourth-place finish in the NCAAs with a time very close to the year before.
The lack of significant improvement in his long-course events bothered Shoults.
“It’s been kind of hard the last three or so years,” he said.
His breakthrough race came late last month at the national championships at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine, a pool he visited hundreds of times while growing up in South Orange County.
His heat time in the 400 freestyle was 3:48.51, which was second fastest and placed Shoults in a middle lane.
“I had a lot of confidence going in,” he said. “I felt like I belonged. I didn’t feel like the guy, I still felt like the underdog, because there are a bunch of guys that are so. …. seconds faster than me, but definitely I felt like I belonged in that heat.”
He went out and finished second to Zane Grothe in 3:46.90, securing a spot on the national team that would travel to Tokyo.
“I was just praying that there was no one on the other side of Zane because I couldn’t see anything,” Shoults said.
Shoults broke another personal barrier that night. He had never finished the event in under 3:48.
“It was nice to finally get past that time,” he said. “Just finally clear 48 and skip 47.”