Justin Ress has won state championships, taken his talents overseas and participated in a meet that included the biggest winner in the history of his sport.
And he keeps on churning up countless gallons of water.
The Marlins of Raleigh and Cary High swimmer will be taking his talents to N.C. State in the fall after an interesting winter and spring, followed by what could be an even better summer.
A lanky 6-foot-4 and 165 pounds, he is one of the more versatile swimmers the state has produced. He has competed in freestyle swims anywhere from 50 to 1,000 meters, as well as individual medley, backstroke and various relays.
Ress finished second in the 200-meter IM (2 minutes, 6.13 seconds), third in the 400-meter IM (4:31.20), and was on second-place teams in the 400- and 800-meter free relays at the Irish Open Long Course Championships in early May at the National Aquatic Center in Dublin. He also was among the top 15 finishers in 50- and 200-meter freestyle races and the 200-meter backstroke
The weekend of May 15, he and 10 other MOR swimmers competed in the Arena Pro Series event in Charlotte, which included the likely final competitive swims in North Carolina for legendary Michael Phelps.
In Ireland, Ress was a member of the USA 18U all-star team – 26 each of young men and women – selected from the National Club Swimming Association Junior Nationals in Orlando, Fla., in March. MOR coach Paul Silver was selected to the U.S. staff.
“The competition in Ireland was at a really high level,” said Ress, whose older brother Brandon also swam for MOR and the Imps and now competes for Towson University. “And one really good part of the experience was getting to socialize with a lot of swimmers from different countries.”
He has qualified for the 2016 Olympic trials in the 200 backstroke and the 200 and 400 IMs. He also will compete at nationals in both the 50 and 1,000 freestyle at the new outdoor Northside Swim Center in San Antonio in August.
“I think my length and size really help me in the longer distances, but I’m really competitive and I like the sprints, too,” said Ress, who learned to swim when he was 2 and started competing five years later. “During a longer swim, I just don’t think about how long it is or how much it hurts. I just take the same number of strokes every lap depending on the length of the race. Adrenaline always takes over at the end if it’s close.”
Silver founded the MOR program, which practices at Pullen Aquatic Center, in 2001 with six swimmers. The Marlins now number about 550.
“Justin is one of the most versatile athletes we’ve ever had,” Silver said. “He’s one of our captains. He’s a real sports nut, and he’s always encouraging everyone. He really seems to love the relays.
“He works real hard, studies the sport and sets real high goals for himself. He knows the paths he needs to take to achieve his goals.”
Silver gave an example of Ress’ versatility that happened at the Orlando meet.
“He swam the 1,000 and finished fourth, and then he came back less than an hour later and did a 19.8 (second) for his 50-yard split, which would have won by over half a second at the high school state meet,” Silver said. “He was the third highest-scoring swimmer and our team was sixth, which is the highest we’d ever scored.”
Silver, who said he hopes Ress can hit Olympic trials qualifying marks in three more events this summer, said the MOR coaches work on developing every stroke for their swimmers.
That lifelong training paid off for Ress in his competitions for Cary High. He was two-time state champion in the 500-yard freestyle, also winning the 200-yard IM and anchoring the 1,600-yard free relay as the Imps finished fourth in this year’s state 4A meet.
“He always came through,” said Cary coach Michael Rosenberg, who also taught Ress in math class. “He won every (individual event) he swam for us this year, and that placed him as the MVP for our conference, regional and state meets.
“His versatility is extremely rare. Most swimmers are sprint or long distance, but he can tackle either the 50 or 500. And then in the IM, when most swimmers seem to have a weak stroke, he just powers through the entire thing.”
Rosenberg said one thing he has appreciated about Ress is how coachable he has been.
“We told him at the beginning of the season we were going to pick on little parts of his technique and help him to drop time and improve,” Rosenberg said. “He took that well.”
Ress said he has enjoyed the camaraderie of both his club and high school teams, and that it’s one of his favorite aspects of his sport.
“I think the friendships I have made will last longer than usual high school friendships will last,” he said. “The high school team is a lot of fun. It’s different from the club because it’s not as serious for most of the swimmers. The ones who don’t swim year-round help the rest of us loosen up.”
Collegeswimming.com had Ress listed as the No. 9 recruit this season, and he’ll be joining a Wolfpack team coming off an ACC championship. Brandon’s mother, then Maya Codelli, swam for the Wolfpack 30 years ago.
“The thing that impressed our staff was his versatile skill set,” N.C. State coach Braden Holloway said. “He’s a great young man, passionate about the sport and always wanting to learn.
“His skill set is something you don’t find very often in prospects, the ability to cover so many events, the speed and endurance and the ability to be valuable in all four strokes. There aren’t many guys who can do that many events as fast as he can. He’s an unbelievable talent.”
The Wolfpack coach, who plans for Ress to swim three individual events per meet along with the 800 free relay, hopes Ress will be even faster by adding more muscle mass.
“He’s still growing,” Holloway said with a laugh. “We’ve just get to get some meat on him – it’s almost like a steak kabob without the steak.”
Ress said the fact his mom swam for N.C. State wasn’t that big a factor in his college decision.
“I also considered Louisville,” Ress said of the school where his father, David, graduated. “They both have up-and-coming programs. And I’m planning to study something in math or science, maybe engineering.”