Members of the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club (SLSC) cherished a very welcomed Christmas break, largely due to the fact that the stretch just before and just after the holidays has seen coach Dean Henze and the crew pushing awfully hard.
In early December, Henze would travel to Toronto on back to back weekends, taking a pair of groupings to top-end competitions. Eleven of the top 14-16 year old SLSC members participated in the Youth Cup at the Pan Am Pool in Scarborough, racing against the best kids in the GTA, as well as entries from Québec and western Canada.
Part of the excitement for the coach lies with a quartet of lads who are all moving along in tandem in the development process. “The 15 year old boys (Ryan Tom, Jérémi Aubin, Jordano Piccoli, Ethan Thomas) swam great,” said Henze. “They tend to get annoyed when they are getting beat by the other guys. They ramp up each other, and it's paying off.”
“I think we're all pretty competitive, so we're all trying to beat each other in practice,” said Piccoli, a 15 year old grade 10 student at Collège Notre-Dame. “We push ourselves to be better. Without Ryan, Jérémi or Ethan beside me, I would probably not be swimming as fast, without having them on my tail. I think we all help each other out a lot that way.”
Henze agrees with the similarities the swimmers share, as well as the contrasting elements of the foursome. “They are all significantly different, both swimming-wise, and in terms of their personalities,” he said. “It's fun. The one thing they all have in common is that they are all very competitive. They don't like being the fourth guy, and there is always a fourth guy.”
While all are veterans of the swim club scene, they have all travelled different paths to the current merging of their talents, a wonderful aligning of the stars from an SLSC standpoint. “I'm in a very good spot this season,” said Piccoli. “I've dropped about five seconds in my best event, qualifying for the provincial cuts.”
“I think I am swimming well because of my mindset,” he added. “If I am at practice and I don't want to be here, I swim like pure garbage. When I want to be better and I think about what I am going to work on, I end up swimming a lot better.”
Hitting a new personal best time in both the 100m and 200m breaststroke while in Toronto, Piccoli is thankful that is attention to detail on what is likely his main stroke, at the moment, is paying dividends. “For me, it's my rhythm,” he said. “It's the timing of when I pull the water towards me and then push out, and timing that with my kick.”
“Sometimes I have a big pause when I get my arms to my chest, and I stay in the air for a second. I have to keep my head lower in the water and drive my hands forward. It took me a long time to understand that. It's a lot better, but it still could be better.”
The week after Youth Cup, Henze was back on the road with a NEOR (Northeast Region) all-star team of nine swimmers to Ontario Junior Invitationals, a squad that included four of his own in the form of Bella Mastroianni, Abby MacDonald, Alex Somoff and Thomas Boyd.
When it came to taking a big picture approach, the coach did not mind sharing his positive vibes on the state of swimming in the region. “There's a lot of optimism,” he said. “Everybody got a second swim, which I thought was good, except for Alex, who was quite sick. We have four very good young ladies in the Sault who swam really well and will be tough to contend with.”
“It was scary how fast the event was.”
Thomas Boyd would pick up the top placement of any NEOR representative, touching the wall fifth in the 100m freestyle, an event which plays to his strength. “When I was 13, I was strong in everything, but now, I see it more in certain strokes,” stated the 17 year old grade 12 student at Lockerby Composite.
“Overall, I'm still well-rounded, but I train mostly freestyle and backstroke. At a young age, you tend to pick up more of the technique for certain strokes. That kind of starts your base, and that's what you focus on a little more.”
Given the length of the swim season, Boyd and his teammates are thankful for some variety being added to the mix, in a whole slew of different ways, for these athletes who are training six days a week. “Dean tries to keep it fresh every year, adding something new to the program,” said Boyd. “There might be some new equipment that we use that year.”
“At some practices, we might do a few things that are just more fun, just to keep our minds at ease.”
Coming out of the holidays, the approach has paid off, with the SLSC just back from their latest meet in Sault Ste Marie, crowned as champions of the Dave Kensit Regional Meet once again this year. “I thought we did a really good job of getting better with each session in the meet,” said Henze. “I didn't think we started off too great, but the kids kept plugging away and swam tougher and tougher every session.”
In all, 38 young athletes donned the SLSC colours, creating an environment that is not lacking in the least in motivation. “It's a little bit easier to swim a little bit tougher for the team when there's a big group,” said Henze. “Certainly, the seniors were not rested at all, so they were going into that meet under a little bit of fatigue.”
“In some cases, the rest of the region is fairly well rested, and we are the guys to beat. Everybody gets excited about racing us.”
For good reason, as the SLSC push continues.