IRVINE, Calif. — Reed Malone's coach at USC, Dave Salo, kept telling the freshman from Winnetka this year, "You should be up there, you have the talent."
"I kind of brushed it off," Malone said.
Thursday night, he proved Salo right by believing it could happen.
Malone finished third in the final of the 200-meter freestyle at the U.S. Championships, completing a day in which he lowered his personal best by more than three seconds and earned a relay spot on the U.S. team at the Pan Pacific Games with fellow Winnetkan Conor Dwyer.
So it will be New Trier (Malone) and Loyola Academy (Dwyer) in the 800 free relay two weeks from now in Australia.
"We'll have a little rivalry," Malone said.
And Naperville's Kevin Cordes made it a big night for suburban Chicago swimming by winning a second straight title in the 200-meter breaststroke after flirting with the world record in the prelims.
Lake Forest's Matt Grevers, the Olympic backstroke champion, also won, but he did it in an event (50 butterfly) not on the Pan Pacs program. However, the victory likely earned him a spot in that race on the 2015 World Championships team, although that will not be determined until the end of this year.
Dwyer, 25, who finished second to his North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammate Matt McLean, figured to be there. After all, he swam on the 800 relay when it won the final of the 2012 Olympics.
Malone, 19, once coached by Dwyer's mother, Jeanne, at the New Trier Swim Club, was a surprise. After all, his best finish in this year's NCAA meet was a 14th in the 500 freestyle.
"At NCAAs I was more scared than anything, just nervous," said Malone, 2013 state champion in the 200 and 500 freestyles. "I have been training hard, and I knew I had it in me to go fast. I was surprised I went that fast."
McLean won in 1 minute, 46.93 seconds while Dwyer clocked 1:47.35 and Malone, 1:47.41.
"We didn't change anything in training," Malone said. "It was my mentality, mostly."
Ryan Lochte, another member of the gold medal relay in London, scratched from the 200 free final to concentrate on the 200 backstroke final 90 minutes later. Lochte finished third.
Dwyer, who swam faster in the Thursday morning prelims, wished he had pushed the pace earlier in the final, even if finishing second qualified him for the individual 200 at Pan Pacs.
"I went out a little too slow," Dwyer said. "I can't make that mistake at Pan Pacs. It just wasn't the right way to swim it tonight."
Times surprisingly have been slower in many of the finals, for reasons some think has to do with closer competition causing more turbulence in the pool.
No one was a better example of that than Cordes, who won the final in 2:09:48 after clocking 2:07.86 in the prelims. The earlier time was just was .85 off the world mark, broke the 5-year-old meet and U.S. Open records by .15 and was 2.8 seconds faster than anyone else.
"World records always are in the back of your mind," said Cordes, a rising senior at Arizona and the fastest college breaststroker in history. "After this morning, I was pretty excited for this (final)."
Cordes led all the way but was in a battle over the final 50 meters. He held off Georgia's Nicolas Fink by just .14.