Although Mountain View High senior Lexi Rudolph only last month officially committed to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her dad Colin has known for years that the standout swimmer was headed there.
When Rudolph was in sixth grade, she said the family took a trip to the south that included a tour of UNC – and that’s when her dad predicted she would one day become a Tar Heel.
“It’s crazy, but he was right,” said the Los Altos resident, who signed her National Letter of Intent Nov. 13.
Colin recalled that she “embraced the area, culture and that everyone wore Carolina blue.”
While the experience left a lasting impression on Rudolph – as did the summer heat and humidity – the 17-year-old wasn’t sure UNC was the school for her until after visiting other colleges. Recruited by nearly 20 schools, Rudolph said she also seriously considered Northwestern University, UC Santa Barbara and Texas Christian University.
But in the end, nothing beat UNC.
“It has everything I wanted,” she said. “I knew I wanted a bigger school with a lot of spirit – the classic college experience – and the campus is beautiful. And everyone is so nice; they’re genuinely nice – not putting on a show. There’s real Southern hospitality.”
The nation’s first public university, UNC also offers the major Rudolph is most interested in.
“It has an amazing sports medicine/exercise science program,” she said. “That was huge for me.”
The UNC coaching staff expects big things from Rudolph, a state finalist and four-time high school All-American. When she made her official visit to Chapel Hill earlier this year, the coaches were convinced that Rudolph would thrive there.
“As soon as Lexi stepped on campus, we felt like Lexi would be a great fit for our program,” said Mark Gangloff, new head coach of the swimming and diving teams. “At UNC, we want to work with good people who want to maximize their potential, and Lexi checks those boxes. We are excited she is a Tar Heel.”
Yet it almost didn’t happen. Rudolph reached out to UNC via email last spring to express her interest in the school but didn’t receive the replies she hoped for.
“An assistant coach responded once, but that was it,” Rudolph said. “It kind of bothered me because I wanted to go there, but they were going through a staffing change, so I don’t blame them.”
Rudolph persisted, though. She figured the new coaches would be at Stanford University in August for the Junior National Championships – which Rudolph missed qualifying for in the 100-meter breaststroke by approximately 1/10th of a second – so she went there and sought them out.
“I saw a UNC coach and went out on a limb and introduced myself,” Rudolph said. “He was the assistant head coach, and I told him about the emails and not getting a response and he asked, ‘When did you send them?’ I told him it was about a month ago, and he said, ‘I’ve only been (on staff) for a week and a half.’”
That conversation reopened Rudolph’s lines of communication with UNC, and the recruitment began in earnest.
“They couldn’t be better coaches,” she said. “They already have a good program, but they want to bring it to the next level. They’re trying to do good things there.”
Rudolph’s versatility could help them do just that.
“I swim everything but the backstroke,” she said.
Rudolph competes in the 50 freestyle, 100 free, 100 breaststroke, 200 breast, 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly for her club, Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics. She joined PASA at age 11 and has raced in major meets such as October’s FINA World Cup in Berlin, Germany.
“I get to really experience the rewards that come with it, like traveling,” Rudolph said of swimming. “I love to travel and meet new people. But I also love racing – that’s probably my favorite part.”
The races and rewards come at a cost, however. It takes plenty of practice to reach Rudolph’s performance level. She trains every weekday afternoon and also Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings.
“I like morning practices, but it’s cold,” said Rudolph, whose younger sister Allison also swims for PASA and is on the Mountain View High team with her. “I walk out of the house looking like the Michelin Man.”
Not that Rudolph – who’s off to Federal Way, Wash., next week to compete in the Winter Junior Nationals West – regrets taking on such a rigorous routine.
“Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it sucks, but overall it’s worth it,” she said. “It landed me a spot at my dream school.”