When Long Island University decided to create a men’s swim team, the coaches put out a nationwide search for people interested in helping the program get off the ground.
Kenai Central senior Sorin Sorensen eagerly answered the call, hoping the NCAA Division I Sharks would give him a chance to compete at the highest level.
“Every high school athlete’s dream is to be part of a DI program,” he said.
Because none of the country’s other DI schools were recruiting him, Sorensen didn’t know what to expect from LIU.
In any case, he shot his shot.
“Being honest with myself, I’m not a super talented athlete. I’m not getting on the podium at state competitions or anything, so it’s not like I was being consistently chased or shown interest by other big DI programs,” he said. “But I believe I have a lot to offer.”
Head coach Matt Donovan agreed and took a chance on the 17-year-old, inviting Sorensen to jump into the deep end with the Sharks.
“Coach is ambitious but also reasonable,” Sorensen said. “Since they are building the program, he was looking for athletes with strong character and potential. It’s harder to convince faster swimmers to come since you don’t have a precedent.”
LIU fields 32 DI teams, including a women’s swimming. So even though the men’s swim team is new, the school’s athletic department is not.
“It’s really exciting to help build a program,” Sorensen said. “And the school puts great value on me as a student.”
He received an academic scholarship to LIU and plans to pursue a Bachelors of Science in nursing.
In high school, Sorensen helped break two school relay records in the 200-yard medley and 400 freestyle. He was also part of consecutive top-10 finishes at the state meet despite Kenai having one of the smallest student enrollments in the field.
This year, with the state championships cancelled because of COVID, Sorensen ended the 2020 season at the Kenai Peninsula Swimming Championships. He medaled in all four events – three golds and one silver.
“I have some great teammates that help push me to get better. We have exceptional facilities and the coaches are great,” Sorensen said. “I think Kenai is definitely going to keep getting better. I’ve got some teammates that are as good as me or better in their own ways.”
Sorensen maximized his potential in high school and predicts he will get faster when surrounded by college swimmers.
“Who you swim with matters,” he said. “I’m just excited to get to work with other athletes and the staff there.”
Sorensen is believed to be the first Kenai Central swimmer to go D1 since 2012 when Winter Heaven competed for the University of Utah.
“He’s a colossus for Kenai swimming,” Sorensen said of Heaven. “He was the guy we looked up to. He was kind of the shadow that loomed over the program, like, this is what Kenai swimming could do.”
Heaven has since returned to Kenai and today helps coach local swimmers. In fact, Heaven’s support played a vital role in assisting Sorensen and crew to break the relay records that had stood for nearly a decade.
“He wasn’t bitter that we broke his records,” Sorensen said. “He pushed us to do it. He wanted us to break the records.”
That encouragement meant the world to Sorensen, who will never forget the feeling of passing his swimming idol in the school record book.
“I remember it so fondly because it was just a big moment in my life,” he said.
By VAN WILLIAMS
Alaska Sports Hall of Fame