You have to be a Michael Phelps or a Natalie Coughlin or even an Olympic team member like Stanford grads Julia Smit or Elaine Breeden. Tosky and Schaefer are not at that level — at least not yet.
Tosky and Schaefer are both only 16 years of age. Only one 16-year-old in America ranks No. 1 in the U.S. in any event this season, Elizabeth Pelton. She's No. 1 in both the 100- and 200-meter backstrokes heading into the 2010 ConocoPhillips National Championships that begin Tuesday in Irvine.
If Pelton is the best 16-year-old swimmer in America, Tosky and Schaefer aren't far behind in that age division. Tosky ranks No. 1 in her age group in the 200 free, 100 fly and 200 fly and No. 2 in the 100 free, 200 IM and 400 IM. Schaefer ranks No. 2 in the 50 free, No. 3 in the 100 free and No. 5 in the 100 fly.
The U.S. National Championships is not an age-group gathering. The meet features the best of the best when it comes to USA swimming and that means world and American recordholders like Phelps and Aaron Peirsol and Dana Vollmer and Katie Hoff — just to name a few.
While Tosky and Schaefer are among the biggest fish in their own pond, the National Championships offers an ocean of talent competing for national and international teams both this year and next.
"You'd like to see these two girls make the national team," said Tony Batis, who coaches both Tosky and Schaefer at PASA. "But, every elite athlete will be there. The reality is that it's 30-70 (against them) that either will make the national team. They'd have to beat some really seasoned veteran athletes, especially some from right across the street (at Stanford)."
At stake next week are berths on the U.S. team that will compete in the Pan Pacific Championships, which also will be held in Irvine later in August. Other meets that swimmers can earn spots on include 2010 Junior Pan Pacs in Maui, Hawaii, in August; the 2010 FINA Short Course World Championships in Dubai this December; the 2011 World University Games next August in Shenzen, China, and the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai, China, next July.
"They'll have the opportunities," Batis said of his two prized swimmers. "Realistically, they'll make the Jr. Pan Pac team."
That international meet features many of the world's best swimmers ages 13-18, who have not yet reached college or competed on senior national teams. It's just another step to the big time, a path Schaefer and Tosky gladly will take to reach their eventual goals.
"Next year will be a very busy year for them, heading into the Olympics," said Batis. "You really have to plan that far ahead."
Looking ahead to 2012 and the Summer Games in London, Schaefer will be finishing up her first year of college and Tosky will be graduating from Palo Alto High. In order for both to be making serious plans about 2012 Olympic Trials, both first must continue to test themselves against world-class competition.
Batis, in fact, would prefer to see Schaefer and/or Tosky make the Pan Pac team that will compete against athletes from the Pacific Rim than settle for the Junior Pan Pacs.
"You take your lumps or dish out your lumps," he said. "The more they can do that early in their careers, the more seasoned they'll be. Next week is just another step in series."
Tosky, who'll be a junior at Paly this fall, has a busy schedule for next week with six individual races (100 and 200 fly, 100 and 200 free, 200 and 400 IMs) plus relays. Schaefer will go in the 50 free, 100 free, 100 back, 100 fly and relays.
"They've done enough (preparation)," Batis said, "to put themselves in position to have a shot."
Tosky perhaps has the best chance of any PASA swimmer to make a senior national team. She is seeded No. 8 in the 400 IM (4:42.11), No.11 in the 200 fly (2:10.69) and 15th in the 200 IM (2:14.77). Schaefer's best shot may be in the 50 free where she is seeded 19th in 25.70.
Tosky and Schaefer are among 10 PASA swimmers with individual events at nationals, with another five swimmers traveling just for the relays.
"It'll be a good group," Batis said.
Scott Shea, who shares the club's top athletes with Batis, has a strong group headed for Irvine. Ben Hinshaw (Cal) may be the best of the lot, along with fellow college sophomores Nick Trowbridge (Cal) and Matt Murray (Arizona). Palo Alto sophomore Byron Sanborn will swim only relays along with Adam Hinshaw, who'll use the national meet as preparation for the Speedo Junior Nationals and Junior Pan Pacs.
The PASA men will be going up against the likes of Phelps and Ryan Lochte and all the other veterans from the Beijing Olympics. Shea said his athletes' realistic hopes are battling for relay spots.
"It's 19-year-olds competing against 25-year-olds," Shea said. "It's a big learning curve."
Keeping that in mind, the focus for PASA athletes will be their performance in the water.
"If they don't make it, they don't make it," Shea said. "But, it puts them closer to 2012."
Shea said he and Batis will be emphasizing the times, along with getting back into an evening swim — whether it be a championship final or one of two consolation finals.
"If Ben (Hinshaw) can make it back into the top eight, that would be good," Shea said.
Shea said the learning aspect of competing at this level is "huge."
"There's a shot, if the kids can perform like we know they can," Shea said. "And, anybody's got a shot as a sprinter."
As for Tosky and Schaefer?
"Once every big meet," Shea said, "there's a 15-, 16- or 17-year-old who makes the team. They're just so young that they don't know they're supposed to fail."
For Tosky and Schaefer and the other PASA swimmers, there is no failure. Everything is a positive, from the experience of being there to competing alongside the world's best swimmers. It's a step the youngsters gladly will take.