NU swimmers eye lofty goals
Nevada Union swimming coach Mike Heard likes to use the weather as an analogy for the swimming season.
The swim season starts in the snow and rain, slowly, patiently turning into warmer, longer days. It ends on a beautiful note.
NU, which currently has undefeated boys and girls teams, practiced in a steady rain Friday, but paid little attention. When it comes to swimming, the warmth and sunshine of success does not come without focus and hard work.
While Rio Americano and especially Davis are expected to finish one-two in the Capital Athletic League this season, Nevada Union is not far behind.
Buoyed by strong senior leadership, the Miners hope to send a handful of swimmers to the Sac-Joaquin section as the season draws to a close.
Perhaps the brightest ray of sunshine on this year’s combined squad is senior Julie Heaton, who recently committed to swim for Fresno State next season.
Heaton, who consistently places in the top five at section meets, is hoping for strong conclusion to a high school career that almost never happened.
“Seven years ago, I told a friend that I was never going to swim again competitively because it makes me too nervous,” Heaton said. “I haven’t had one race since that I haven’t been nervous, but it has worked out pretty well.”
Three weeks ago, Heaton joined girls teammates Julie Hastert, Samantha Stowe and boys swimmer JD Ellingson at the prestigious Section meet in Las Vegas.
The open meet, featuring collegiate swimmers and Olympians, brought out the best in Heaton, who swam personal bests in four events, taking a whopping four seconds off her time in the 200 backstroke and registered back-to-back 53-somethings in the 100 freestyle.
One of the best 100 freestyle swimmers in the Sac-Joaquin section, Heaton was seeded 80th, and finished 30th.
“It was extremely humbling,” said Heaton, who is working to drop her time in the 100 below 53. “But improving my times and registering two 53-second times (in the 100 free) was really exciting for me, because I haven’t done that since sophomore year.”
Teammate Elise Tuttle wants personal best times, too. Tuttle, who developed tendinitis in both shoulders as a junior, is hoping to top personal bests set for her as a sophomore. If she were able to top her previous best times, it would cap a mentally taxing return from an injury that simply does not allow her to push herself as she used to willfully do.
For months after the injury a year and a half ago, laps were replaced by visits to the physical therapist and work with a kick board.
“Elise should be an inspiration to everybody in the pool,” Heard said. “I’ve never had a swimmer that had the discipline to recover like she did. Often, (tendinitis) requires a long layoff, but she didn’t take it, she worked through it, and that is hard because you watch everyone around you swim, and you can’t.”
As a sophomore, Tuttle used to swim the 100 freestyle in 56-low; after the injury, Tuttle was battling to break one minute.
At Wednesday’s meet versus Casa Roble, Tuttle swam the 100 in 57 and change.
Tuttle hopes to swim at the next Section tournament; as a junior, she had qualified for the meet before the tendinitis struck in the fall of 2000.
“I really love the idea of swimming, of setting personal goals and reaching them,” Tuttle said. “It give you a chance to show dedication and responsibility. I love to put my head in the water, forget everything that went on during my day, and just swim my hardest.”
It is hard to imagine anyone swimming harder on the boys’ team this season than Ellingson. The senior, who last year placed fifth in the 200 freestyle and ninth in the 200 backstroke at the Sac-Joaquin section meet last year, hopes to improve drop his time in the 200 freestyle low enough so that he can qualify for junior nationals. Ellingson’s best time in the event is 1:46.86, less than three seconds off qualifying time.
“JD is our leader,” Heard said. “Inevitably, every meet he loses his voice from screaming encouragement to others, and that is great.”
Just as the clock records Ellingson’s times in meets, it also ticks away his final season with the Miner swim team. Though he also swims for the Penguin swim club, the high school team means something extra to him.
The sun may be setting on the high school careers of these swimmers, but each sees bright days ahead for the program.
“I kind of like high school swimming because it is more team oriented,” Ellingson said. “Our program is starting to come back with swimmers who haven’t done much competitive swimming, but have a lot of talent.”
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Another week on the track and another win for Brad Sweet.