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BLOOMINGTON - Bloomington's Monica Drake earned a spot on the USA Swimming national junior team in August.

Yet she didn't really feel part of the team until a trip to Colorado Springs nearly three months later.

Drake attended a National Junior Team Training Camp in late October to meet other team members who will join her at the Victoria State Championships Jan. 3-7 in Melbourne, Australia.

"It was really fun to meet other swimmers from around the country who are doing the same things I am," said the Bloomington High School freshman. "The practices were kind of hard because it was at (higher) altitude, but it was mainly about the meetings."

Drake has already qualified for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 800-meter freestyle.

"The National Junior Team is the first step for many of our successful National Team athletes," said USA Swimming National Team Director Everett Uchiyama. "This is an incredibly talented group, and the challenging experience of competing in Australia will help their preparation to contribute to our Olympic effort."

Drake, who trains with the Bloomington-Normal YMCA Waves, enjoyed the social aspect of meeting other top swimmers.

"I just liked to meet the other people going, the girls I've raced before from across the country," she said. "I finally got to know their personalities, which is kind of cool. Everyone was real nice. We got along real good because we had a lot in common."

Drake said the event's coaches wanted to get familiar with the methods of the swimmers.

"They were mainly maintenance practices," she said. "They just wanted to see how we swam with other girls and how we trained."

Drake recently returned from the U.S. Open swim meet in Auburn, Ala. She placed third in the 800 freestyle in 8:53 and sixth in the 400 freestyle and rated those times as "OK."

The 15-year-old will be busy once she gets to Australia. Her coaches have entered her in the 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyle along with mthe 50, 100 and 200 butterfly.

"I think it's going to be fun. I've never been out of the country," Drake said. "The longer events are my main events, but I'm just trying to have a good, learning experience traveling out of the country without my parents."

The Victoria State Games matches Australian swimmers with junior swimmers from the United States, Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand. The meet will be held at the same pool as the 2007 World Championships.

"There is a huge rivalry between the U.S. and Australia in swimming," Drake said. "That should be fun."

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