Something Bigger Than Yourself

Swimmers Share Recent Accomplishments

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Photo by Rowan Rodriguez

Senior Diego Salazar Lopez competes in the 50 yard butterfly on Nov. 5 at the Leander and Gateway Tri Meet, where he won fourth place out of 22 other boys. Salazar is one of the top swimmers in the boys division, and one of the qualifiers for the Texas Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association meet. “Since freshman year, it feels that I have received more respect than how I was my previous years, more trust in the team, and more relaxed,” Lopez said. “I feel as though I have improved greatly each year. I’ve gotten faster and stronger physically, emotionally, and mentally.”

Rachana Kommineni, Reporter

As she dives into the pool, she can feel the smooth water against the surface of her skin. She breathes through her nose, and after every third stroke, she lifts her head to get a breath of air and then dives right back down into the water. She does that lap after lap every morning.

Growing up, freshman Juliette Yonezawa’s parents wanted her to try different sports, and swimming was one that spoke to her. She said she always loved being in the water, and felt happy and free. 

“I started doing competitive swimming about a year ago, but I have been doing summer league for seven years,” Yonezawa said. “I loved doing it over the summer, so I decided over the COVID break to join a competitive team.”

She said she has always been working towards making a high school team since it would allow her to have more practice time and be able to connect with other swimmers at school. Amongst her many accomplishments, most recently, she placed fourth in the 100 yard freestyle and second in the 50 yard freestyle on Nov. 5. Additionally she got second in the 50 yard freestyle and fifth in the 100 yard butterfly. 

“In the past, I would have said that freestyle is one of my weaker strokes, but since my knee injury, I have been limited on what strokes and what distances I am allowed to do, so I have improved a lot in freestyle,” Yonezawa said. “I’m very happy that I have started placing recently since it shows improvement from the beginning of the season. I also feel that I’m more proud of self improvement in my times rather than ranks since swim is a team and individual sport.”

She has been through a lot with her knee previously, and at one point, it ended up being Osgood-Schlatter disease, which is a condition that causes pain and swelling below the knee joint, but she was allowed to continue swimming since it did not worsen the injury.

“I have recently found out that I have juvenile idiopathic arthritis, which is arthritis for kids,” Yonezawa said. “It has been hard with all the blood work and complications, but I have persevered and continued to swim which has helped me get my mind off of it. The doctor says that there is no restrictions needed except for if I’m hurting, which I have to decide for myself when I can swim and when I can’t.”

According to Yonezawa, she is happy that her hard work during practice is paying off in competitions and that she is continually improving in the sport. 

“I believe swimming has made me who I am today and that I have learned many valuable lessons from my coaches and from the sport,” Yonezawa said. “I would love to continue to swim as long as I am passionate and doing it for the right reasons.” 

Another swimmer’s career began after almost drowning at her grandfather’s lake house at the age of five. Freshman Savanna Williamson started swim lessons after that incident, which eventually led to joining a swim team.

“To be honest, I love everything about swimming and it’s such a unique sport and it’s very calming to me,” Williamson said. “It takes my mind off of the stress of school and just lets me enjoy doing something I love.”

After only swimming in the summer, Williamson had a lot of people tell her to join a swim club, and her best friend at the time was in a swim club called Waterloo. She ended up joining it and liking it because of the friends, the swim meets and the challenges, she said.

“I decided to join the high school swim team for mostly the social experience since swim club is fun, but it’s more challenging and requires more work in high school, so I am definitely still challenged at high school,” Williamson said. 

Williamson was one of the swim team members who qualified for The Texas Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association meet. TISCA is where swimmers from all over Texas compete in a big swim meet. 

“I was really excited to make the cut and I can’t wait to go to the meet,” Williamson said. “I think I have grown as a person and it has definitely taught me life lessons like putting in hard work and how it pays off which will really help me when I’m older.” 

Getting first or second place for all of her events, and consistently getting first place in the 2 IM (a combination of 25 meter strokes) and between first and second in 100 meter breaststroke, is an expected result, according to junior Mikayla ‘Mickie’ Koltz. Additionally, Koltz broke the 100 meter breaststroke last year and then again this year, which was her own record.

“The first time I won, I was elated,” Koltz said. “Touching the wall and realizing you got first is a feeling you really never get over. I try not to mind pressure for being expected to get consistent wins, so I just focus on doing my best, because that’s all I can really do. 

She started competitively swimming year round at the age of 12. According to Koltz, the sport is hard enough as it is, and if you don’t have friends in the sport, it is not really fun. 

The first time I won, I was elated. Touching the wall and realizing you got first is a feeling you really never get over. I try not to mind pressure for being expected to get consistent wins, so I just focus on doing my best, because that’s all I can really do. ”

— Mickie Koltz

“When I met really good friends in swim, I thought this is the sport for me,” Koltz said. “My parents had water safety concerns, so making sure I knew I had to swim was what made me join swim in the first place, and eventually fell in love with it.”

 Prior to moving to Texas, Koltz lived in Wisconsin, where she qualified for state, competed and got eighth place. There, she found a competitive drive that motivated her to compete. 

“There were people faster than me, and I wanted to be faster than all those people, and it was that competitive drive which got me into the sport,” Koltz said. “As a kid, I would drop time left and right. I can’t say I can do that now, but those time drops were the exciting force that drove me into the sport. That I could continuously improve, and have an amazing group of friends seemed like the package deal, so I stuck with it and loved it.”

Koltz said that she had a different mindset when transitioning from club swim to school swim. 

“Club teaches you that you are an individual swimmer, and you are swimming and competing for yourself,” Koltz said. “Going into high school, it was you are competing for your team. It is a group event. Going into high school, I learned that I am a part of a team and their success is my success and my success is their success.”

The swim team, originally starting out with 30-35 members, has now grown to around 60 swimmers. This growth in membership has really affected the team because it gives more room for newcomers to learn from more experienced swimmers, according to senior and captain Ryan Strader.

“We’ve got some fast freshmen nearly beating our upperclassmen, which really demonstrates how the team will continue to improve,” Strader said. “It’s incredible to see the work that these swimmers have put in. I’ve been swimming with some of them for years and to see their hard work pay off is almost better than getting it myself.”

As part of being a senior this year, one thing that Jacob Moyer felt pertinent to do was to be a captain because he wanted to experience being in a leadership role so that he could pave the way to future champions.

“As a captain, I feel that it is my job to not only be the team hype man, but to lead by example as well,” Moyer said. “This year, the team has really bonded and congratulated everyone’s accomplishments, even the small ones. No one expected the amount of accomplishments we have made so far but they are deserved since everyone works so hard.”

 According to Koltz, she needs to do her absolute best at all times if she wants to consistently improve in her timing. But just getting faster isn’t her only goal, she said, after realizing that when they win, they win as a group.

“The feeling that you are a part of something bigger than yourself flips that switch real fast,” Koltz said. “Hard work pays off. If you are willing to put the work in, you will see results. They might not be immediate results, you might not see them the next time you compete, but you might see them three months away, but knowing that your work that you are doing right now will pay off, I think that applies to everything.”