Four Bobcats still afloat in quest of state qualifying time
The following conversation was overheard somewhere in the New River Valley this week:
“Fish breathe water,” he said.
“That’s impossible,” she said. “If they breathed water, then they’d drown.”
“No they won’t,” he said. “That’s what gills are for.”
Never mind the strained grasp of ichthyology. Many folks have a tough time understanding just how fish do it. The whole swimming thing can be one big mystery.
That’s easy to understand. Face it. Unless you’re an eel, a seal, or a carp, you weren’t meant to swim. Daggone if people keep trying to do it, though. The reality is, assuming you can stay afloat for a bit, it’s one tough way to get your exercise.
Heather Rowland, who coaches Radford High School students in best practices for – get this – racing other waterlogged human beings in large concrete puddles filled with heavily chlorinated water. Imagine that, going overboard with no life jacket.
Anyway, as stated before, this is one brutal way to elevate one’s heart rate. For you non-swimmers, this is what it amounts to. To prepare for the few moments of competition the sport includes, you spend hours upon hours staring at the bottom of a pool as you abuse every muscle group not to mention your tortured lungs swimming lap after ponderous lap.
Believe me when I tell you there is nothing to look at when you’re staring at an expanse of underwater concrete for hours upon hours. There’s nothing there to see until somebody figures out a way to project Facebook on the pale lanes.
This is one tough sport. So you ask yourself, why does the Radford coach want to make it harder than it already is?
“It’s giving the swimmers a carrot they can aim for,” she said.
Fair enough, but me, I prefer my carrots baked into a cake with white chocolate buttercream frosting. That’s beside the point, though. We’re talking saturated Bobcats here, not Saturday bake sales.
Here’s what Rowland’s up to. Because there is no Group A state meet, Radford’s swimmers are eligible to qualify for the AA meet Feb. 15 at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center. Qualifying standards for A swimmers involves being one of the top three in swimmers in your class at the Region C meet, which will be Feb. 9 at the Dedmon Center.
Aware that even the top-three at Region C may have times far from regular AA qualifying times, Rowland has developed her own marks. Her thinking is that there’s no point to waste people’s time or hurt somebody’s feelings by sending a slow swimmer to state. The solution she developed was to artificially elevate the qualifying standards to a level more to her liking.
Her standards are higher than those Virginia High School League has set for A swimmers at the combined A-AA meet.
This is how it works. She takes a AA state qualifying time for a particular event, compares it to a typically faster AAA qualifying time, then takes the difference and subtracts that number from the AA time to arrive at what she deems a fair qualifying standard for Radford’s swimmers. That tends to trim the number of state qualifiers but it also ensures that only the fastest among them will go to state.
This year, two of the Bobcats boys relay teams, the 200-meter freestyle and the 400 freestyle are the most likely qualifiers based on Rowland’s demanding standard. Earlier this week at a meet at the Dedmon Center pool at Radford University, the quartet of Matt Turk, Adam Johnston, Zach Clark, and Michael Mann, the team for both the 200 and 400, fell just short – tenths of a second – off the two qualifying times.
“As aggravating as that was to miss the time it was also motivating to know we’re so close,” said Johnston, a junior who specializes in the 50 free and 100 breast stroke in his individual events. They’ll have four more meets to hit the mark before regionals.
Believe it when it is said these fellows can handle the math when it comes to figuring up ualifying times. All that time in the pool tends to prompt deep thinking. Turk, for example, is a senior who will be class salutatorian at graduation. His future includes aerospace engineering at either Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech.
These guys are the versatile types. Turk and Johnston were both members of Radford’s state championship cross country team. They both walked off the championship meet course at Great Meadow on a Saturday and into the pool the following Monday. Each will also run track in the spring. Turk’s running indoor track right now – distance events, of course. Talk about tough, though.
“I guess I have to eat and sleep a lot,” said Turk when asked how he does it.
Clark plays football. Similarly to his associates Turk and Johnston in cross country, Clark played his last football game in the Division 1 playoffs on a Friday and was in the pool the following Monday.
“Swimming is definitely the tougher workout,” he said.
As for Mann, another senior, he’s well-rounded, too. As if trying to shave tenths of a second off a qualifying time isn’t tense enough, he’s heavily into another type of drama. He’s acting in the school play currently in production. His part is the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz.
Say this for the young thespian: Douse him in H2O and chlorine and fire that starting gun and there’s no question whatsoever about his heart.
All this underscores another point. Unlike many of the heavy-duty competitors they compete against, none of these Bobcats is a year-round swimmer. Clark comes closest to the year-round model if it weren’t for football. He’s leaving track this spring to add a third swimming season along with the summer prior to preseason football practice.
Rowland likes the idea of having guys who aren’t 12-month swimmers.
“They’re real underdogs,” she said. “I love working with them.”
Clark the football player seems to like the challenge of racing the year-rounders.
“It can be intimidating going against guys like that, so we try our hardest,” he said. “It usually works out.”
-Ray Cox covers recreational, high school and college sports in the New River Valley. If you have information you’d like featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 381-1672.
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