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Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2019
Early season meet provides role models for NEORA teens
by Randy Pascal

Looking down the deck of the Olympic Gold Pool, Jérémi Aubin, Hannah Nordquist and the remainder of the NEOR (Northeastern Ontario Region) all-star swim team enjoy a very vivid representation of where they want to be – someday.

Such is the beauty of the Laurentian University Invitational swim meet.

Bringing together varsity teams donning the colours of the Ottawa Gee Gees, Waterloo Warriors and hometown Laurentian Voyageurs, along with a collection of Northern Ontario talent typically ranging in age from 14 to 18, the event provides a variety of opportunities, depending on one’s perspective.

For the NEORA youngsters, the environment is as much about a showcase in the presence of potential recruiters as it is a milieu for learning, a chance to observe the inner workings of race day at the next level.

For the OUA coaches on hand, the Invitational is both an early season setting to work out the kinks and begin the training ramp up to divisionals in November, but also an occasion to begin making personal contact with athletes on their radar a year or two (or more) down the road.

Just 14 years of age, SLSC (Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club) veteran Jérémi Aubin enters the 2017-2018 campaign on the heels of a breakthrough season. “Two years ago, it was really rough,” he said. “I didn’t make any qualifying times for nothing.”

“But the last year, suddenly, my fly (butterfly) just kicked in and I went to provincials and everything like that. It was just spectacular how good I got.” Crediting the bulk of his success largely to staying the course of his training program, Aubin noted his commitment to hard work as a means to an end.

More specifically, he did mention one very specific element of his race that tends to have the biggest impact on his potential for improvement. “Usually, the walls are most important, because everybody dies on walls,” he said. “You do dolphin kicks the whole entire time.”

“Right now, I am trying to go for nationals – I missed it by 1.5 seconds last year,” Aubin continued. “The walls are the easiest way to shave off that 1.5 seconds.” Making his first appearance at this meet, the grade nine student at Collège Notre-Dame was plenty pleased with his performance, most notably in light of the competition on hand.

“I didn’t have huge expectations, because these guys are all like twenty and they’re all pretty huge, especially considering I’m like 5’3”, 5’4”,” he said. SLSC teammate Hannah Nordquist has an all together different reason for reeling in her performance targets, at least for the time being.

“I had a shoulder injury all last year, which kind of limited my racing ability a little bit,” said the sophomore at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School. “This year, I’m feeling ok so far. I just want to get some new PB’s, I haven’t PB’d in a while.”

That goal might take a little patience. The fact remains that the new season of competitive swimming is only just underway, with Nordquist still playing catch-up on lost training time, resting and rehabbing her shoulder last year.

“I didn’t really expect to do that well (this weekend),” she said. “They really don’t expect any of us to be ready to race fast right away, because we’re so early in the season. Around Christmas, we might be looking at PB’s.”

As almost any athlete returning from injury will admit, the mental challenges often outweigh the physical demands of regaining the peak of one’s prior performance. “It was definitely tough seeing all of the girls pass me that I was beating before,” stated Nordquist. “But because they trained so much more than me, they were getting better and better and better, and I was kind of staying on the same line.”

All in good time for the Sudbury product. Even come the post-secondary level, a more long-term approach can be taken, especially when you factor in the new OUA ruling that allows qualifying times from the prior year to count towards reaching the standard for nationals.

“At the OUA championships last year, I had a shoulder injury and had to scratch from the finals of the 100 fly, my best event,” noted second year Laurentian Voyageur Francesca Zammit-Maempel. “It was hard for me, because I was going in (ranked) third. I spent my whole summer in rehab and had to stop training. It’s a lot better, but not 100%.”

Still, without the stress of needing to achieve standards (she is pre-qualified based on her 2016-2017 times), the 19 year old native of Niagara Falls can approach her return in a much more gradual fashion. That’s encouraging, especially since her freshman season at L.U. provided plenty of reason for optimism, both for herself as well as Voyageur swim coach Phil Parker.

“I was so happy with my progress last year,” said Zammit-Maempel. “I saw such a big difference going from club swimming to university. I was so happy to qualify for CIS’ in my first year.” Safe to say that her adjustment from the training program she had grown immensely comfortable with in her youth, to the contrasting nuances of life at L.U., all worked out well in the end.

“A new coach was kind of different,” said the Sports Psychology major. “It wasn’t bad. I love Phil and I like my coach before too. It was just that they have completely different strategies. My club coach was more distance oriented. I am a sprinter, but a lot of my training was volume.”

“When I came here, Phil is really specific for sprinters, it was more sprint work for me,” added Zammit-Maempel. “That helped me a lot. We do shorter practices here, but we do more weights, which benefits me more.”

And for those young Northern Ontario swimmers still dreaming of OUA competition, simply becoming aware of the differences can be huge, an awareness that they can thank the Laurentian Invitational for.

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