"I tried to get her to have more fun, relax and enjoy herself. I'd like to think we'd have her at the same level if she had stayed with us. It's hard to let an athlete like that go."

In her final meet with Typhoon Aquatics, Hoff finished fourth in the 200 IM at the 2003 Summer Nationals in College Park last August.

Two months earlier, she had taken a scouting trip to Edgewood. Hoff had befriended the NBAC Harford group's best swimmer, Courtney Kalisz, who has done big things for coach Paul Yetter.

His mentor is Murray Stephens, the co-founder of the NBAC, who had created a culture that sent Anita Nall to the Olympics in 1992, then Beth Botsford in '96 and Phelps four years ago.

None of them was older than 15 when they qualified.

Hoff settled into a 25-yard pool off Route 40, passed on a junior national trip to Australia and dreamed bigger.

"Not to sound cocky or anything, but I qualified for that junior national trip nine months earlier, and my goals had changed," Hoff said.

"I had also just joined a new team, and I didn't want to leave them for three weeks. It can be difficult when you go to a new team, because most of the kids have grown up together. This group has been very accepting and supportive."

Hoff, Kalisz, Allison Barnes and Jackie Gonzalez set a slew of national age-group relay records in the 13-14 category last winter. Kalisz, only 14 herself, has qualified for the trials in multiple events.

Having met the standard in eight, Hoff has no apparent weakness. She is also a player in the 200 IM, where Amanda Beard is the only American who has gone faster this year.

Hoff has done solo morning workouts at the Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center's Olympic-sized pool in Mount Washington, but Yetter said she is just scratching her training potential. She averages just under 40 miles of training a week, a load she was already accustomed to.

"Katie is probably doing the same mileage she was a year ago," Yetter said. "We've found a way in the last few months to do more. There's definitely room for her to do more training, but not now."

The home-schooled Hoff will have plenty of drive time to study in the fall.

When Phelps follows his coach to Michigan after the Olympics, the NBAC's elite group will return to its previous emphasis, high schoolers. Yetter and his swimmers will move full-time to Meadowbrook, where the indoor pool is adorned with poster-sized photos of the NBAC's Olympians.

By then, Hoff's could be hanging there, too.
Fast times

Katie Hoff was 14 on May 22, when her time in the 400 individual medley made her the sixth-fastest American woman ever in the event:

Name, Year, Time
Summer Sanders, 1992, 4:37.58
Janet Evans, 1988, 4:37.76
Maggie Bowen, 2001, 4:39.06
Tracy Caulkins, 1984, 4:39.24
Kristine Quance, 1993, 4:39.25
Katie Hoff, 2004, 4:39.82

Source: USA Swimming