Monday, February 8, 2010

Observations from the pool deck: 3A Western Swimming Regionals

Darren Kataja, a junior on the Jay M. Robinson High School swim team, competed in two events at the 3A Western Regional swim meet on Saturday. He took time out of his day to share his experiences and impressions of the meet.

10:20 a.m.: Today is the day. The culmination of a full season of hard work. The spectacle beheld by throngs of interested viewers. The goal for many, a dream for some, but a competition for all. Oh, and after it’s over we can all watch the Super Bowl.

In about an hour and 40 minutes, the best swimmers of the 3A Western region will converge on Huntersville Aquatic Center to compete in one of the most important events of the season: regionals. The field is made only of those swimmers who have recorded an automatic standard or a very high consideration standard at some point throughout the season, making for a competitive meet.

The top twelve finishers in each event will proceed to the state meet, which is Friday in Raleigh. My team, the Jay M. Robinson Bulldogs, is lucky enough to have a high number of individual entries and relays seeded near the top.

My two events today are the 100-yard butterfly and the 100-yard backstroke. I’m the twelfth seed in the butterfly, so that’s my focus for the day.

11:15 a.m.: The pool area is crowded with parents and teams from all over the western half of North Carolina. Half of the teams are warming up now, but the rest of us are patiently and nervously waiting our turn. Almost everyone is listening to their iPods, getting pumped up.

Our coach, Beverly Kopelic, just made a speech encouraging us to “make our mark” on regionals. That is exactly what we intend to do.

11:50 a.m.: Warm-ups just ended and we are ready to swim. The pool feels fast today (yes, good swimmers can tell the difference between fast water and slow water) and my heart rate is just as fast as it should be. The purpose of warming up is to get adjusted to the pool conditions and to test out your body’s systems.

In my experience, I have felt terrible in warm-ups many times and turned out great swims, and vice versa. Every swimmer takes a different approach to warming up, and it is important to establish a routine that makes the swimmer feel the most comfortable about the coming events.

12:15 p.m.: High school meets always begin with one of the most entertaining events: the 200-yard medley relay. Four swimmers from each qualifying team compete with each swimmer doing 50 yards of a different stroke. The order is backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle. The freestyle leg never fails to be nail biting.

The Bulldog girls' relay, consisting of Alex Kirk, Meghan Masius, Katy Gilbert and Julia Greer, was the fifth seed in the event. Each girl swam well and they managed to finish fourth, meaning expectations for states are high.

The boys relay, made up of Griffin Fiedler, Chad Heiser, Rene Brown, and Forrest Cannon, carried the top seed in to the event. The team from Charlotte Catholic had their targets set on the Bulldog boys, but with a powerful breaststroke leg by Heiser and a gutsy freestyle leg by Cannon, they managed to hold off Catholic and become regional champions.

“I was nervous to the point where I couldn’t even shake,” said Cannon, a senior and captain. “Compared to last year, though, when we were fighting for the eighth spot (in 4A Regionals), this race was nice.”

1:20 p.m.: There are generally two types of swimmers on high school teams: those who swim year-round on competition teams and those whose swim season is confined to high school. It takes a strong mix of both types to create a team deep enough to be successful. Our team this year was definitely able to take advantage of a perfect mixture. It certainly is a part of the reason why the boys and girls handily won the South Piedmont Conference.

2:15 p.m.: OK, so I’m a little bit mad. I just got out of the water after my 100-butterfly race, which, if you recall, I was seeded twelfth and projected to qualify for states. I swam my best time of the season so far, faster even than what I swam only two weeks ago. With limited practice time due to the recent snow, that is definitely an accomplishment.

However, everyone else swam faster, too, and I ended up finishing 15th. Such is the cruelty of swimming. Success and failure in the sport is only partially under the control of the individual swimmer. Everything depends on the ability, mind state, training regimen and adrenaline of the opposing swimmers. The race against the clock is only part of it; you also have to race against people who have spent the whole week hearing from coaches about how “that kid Darren Kataja is only such-and-such tenths of a second ahead of you….”

There is definitely something left to be desired after my best swim of the year, but for me it will be a tasty sandwich instead of states.

Maybe I can calm myself down during these long 500-freestyle races.

3:45 p.m.: Well, the spectacle has come and gone. Charlotte Catholic High School won the meet according to the points, but the real winners are definitely those whose hard work pushed them through into a qualifying spot for states. The Bulldogs will be well represented next Friday in Raleigh, and that’s what the months of practicing is all about.

I’d love to keep going on but I’ve got to get out of here and get my homework done before the Super Bowl (the other spectacle that happens to share the day with regionals). I wonder if Drew Brees could beat me in the 100-yard butterfly….