The lead pack of the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club deserved a month like this.
Two years of uncertainty would give way to a highly encouraging end to the 2021-2022 season as five members of the SLSC attended either the Ontario Swimming Championships or the Canadian Swimming Championships - or both - last month.
Hannah Nordquist, Ali Bertrim, Bella Mastroianni, James Bertrim and Alexandre Landry posted times and results that provided a clear springboard to the ensuing season, with Nordquist and Landry in particular having even more reason to celebrate.
For the latter, qualifying for the final in both the 100m and 200m breaststroke in Montreal this past weekend was a major accomplishment, justifying to a degree a whole lot of hard work put in during a season that has seen swimmer (Landry) and coach (Dean Henze) battle through some key technical changes to his stroke.
“My improvement in the last month has been incredible,” said Landry, a 19 year old second year accounting student at Laurentian University and product of the Valley East Waves before making the move in recent years to the SLSC. “I dropped my time by more than two seconds at provincials - but then to take another three seconds off at nationals, that was insane.”
“To take six seconds off in a month is something I hadn’t done since I was ten years old.”
In fact, his spot in the 200m breast at nationals was confirmed only when he posted a new personal best time of 2:24.20 at provincials, only to then register a new PB of 2:21.45 two weeks later in Montreal.
“There are certain aspects of his breaststroke that are world class,” noted Henze. “I didn’t want to screw up his kick, because his kick is a lethal, lethal weapon. That’s what took so long.”
Thankfully, technically speaking, Landry was on board with the changes. “Before, when I pulled, I pulled more internally,” he said. “Dean wanted me to go wider so that I could catch more water, which makes sense. Also, with the timing of my stroke, I used to breathe too early.”
“Now I can focus a bit more on my kick so that I can get a better glide. Visually, it would be hard to tell the difference. It’s a minimal difference, but it has a big impact.”
If there is a self-assuredness to the manner in which Alexandre Landry describes his growth as a swimmer, it certainly has not gone unnoticed by the man closely monitoring his stroke from the deck.
“The biggest thing, aside from the technical changes, was in his confidence and his ability to stand up and race at a different level, his ability to hold a pace that six months ago probably scared him,” said Henze.
In a sense, it’s an ability to feel at ease while in complete and utter discomfort.
“At nationals in the morning (he would swim the 200m breaststroke in 2:26), it didn’t really hurt that much; I knew that I could be better,” said Landry. “At night, just getting out of the pool was a struggle. By the end of the race, your arms are hurting, your legs are hurting.”
Few deserved a bout of good fortune more than Landry. Committed to completing his post-secondary studies in french, the talented teen would stick to the SLSC program in spite of the cancellation of the L.U. Voyageurs swim team, a group he very much looked forward to competing with.
“That was a complete shock to me,” he said.
And though not as shocking, the reality check that came from participating in his first meet with a team that would oppose his beloved Valley East Waves and long-time coach Sharon Leger was, in his words, “very different”.
Still, he persevered.
“I’ve always loved swimming,” said Landry. “The team aspect and everything - and I was getting better and better at making the cut.”
Hannah Nordquist had already made in-roads as a provincially competitive age group swimmer when she hit her early teens, only to decide that she needed to give volleyball a more serious shot. A member of both a city championship team at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary as well as cracking the roster of the Northern Chill Volleyball Club rep program, Nordquist would return to the pool in earnest only as she began her university studies at Guelph last fall.
Out of sight and out of mind on the provincial competitive circuit for the Gryphons coaching staff, far more than was the case for athletes who tried to battle through the challenges of Covid, the 19 year-old who finalled in a pair of races at nationals had slipped out of the loop in which OUA athletes are typically recruited.
That isn’t the case any more.
Nordquist posted top ten finishes at the Toronto Pan Am Centre in early July in both the 100m breaststroke (1:14.04) and 200m breaststroke (2:42.55), times that will see her join the Sudbury trio of Abigail MacDonald, Bella Mastroianni and Ali Bertrim as members of a strong Guelph women’s team come the fall.
“They really didn’t know who she was; she had to prove her worth,” said Henze, the man who might be least surprised of Nordquist’s performances last month. “It was a “re-coming out party” for her. It really is a testament to her - she’s a super talented young lady.”
Though it’s unlikely that the trio who will compete in the OUA next season can utilize these most recent times as an official means of qualify for the all-Ontario university meet, Henze stressed that it’s not as though the accomplishments are without merit.
“If nothing else, it’s a matter of having the peace of mind of knowing that you have done it, that you have swam those times,” said Henze.
And for a group whose home training has sat vacant as they have scurried all across the region for workouts multiple times a week, it’s just one more piece of positive information in a month in which a whole lot of things went right.