When specialties overlap, flood of tips arrive


Carolyn Van Houten/The Herald
Jasper senior Addison Nolan, right, wiped away happy tears after swimming a personal-best time in the 200-yard freestyle at last weekend’s sectional. Nolan qualified individually for this weekend’s state finals in the 100 backstroke and teammate Emma Hopf, left, is also state finals-bound in the 50 and 100 freestyle. Both Nolan and Hopf swim events that coach Jenae Gill specialized in, making them subject to plenty of input from Gill and her discerning eye.

Herald Sports Editor

Addison Nolan has a tendency to do a lot of push-ups. An inordinate amount, compared to her cohorts on the Jasper girls swim team. As in, Nolan sometimes feels she’s the only one who has to do them.

Unfair? Maybe, maybe not. That’s simply the blessing and the burden when your specialty stroke just so happens to be congruent with your coach’s.

It happens at Jasper, where coach Jenae Gill, the 100-yard backstroke state champion in 2004, scrutinizes the every mechanic of Nolan, the Wildcat senior who will swim that event in the state finals that begin with Friday’s preliminaries at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis. And the plot is similar at Southridge, where state finalist 500 freestyler Sydney Barrett has adopted a clearer plan for the long haul with second-year coach Dick Taylor, a distance freestyler back in his competitive  days.

Oh, and Emma Hopf, you can’t hide either. When Gill swam at Purdue, she added the 50 freestyle to her repertoire, so Gill has spent all season preaching the finer points of the race to Hopf, a sprinter and budding star whose improvements have arrived exponentially.

Gill is the mechanic of mechanics, checking under the hood to make the necessary tweaks to bring her girls up full throttle. Nolan, in particular, gets the full inspection.

“My turns. My turns have been a really big issue,” Nolan said. (Gill nods.)

 “And my push-off on the wall. Being level. She’s on me about that.” (Gill nods.)

“I have a really bad habit on pulling on the lane line and cheating myself.” (“Yes!” Gill agreed, nodding her head more furiously.) “And when she finds me and sees me, I try to hide it sometimes. But I’m not very good at it.”

And that’s where the push-up penalty come into play.

“I don’t let anybody get away with it, but I’m especially watching out for her, trying to cheat her way through things,” Gill said, joining in a good-spirited laugh with Nolan.

It hasn’t been a total make-over, but a considerable remodel as Gill has helped Nolan adjust the tempo of her arm motion and how she catches the water with her stroke. With Hopf, who hasn’t been fully immersed in the full-time, all-week, year-round scene of club swimming like most standouts are, Gill immediately picked up on an important hiccup in her form.

Whenever Hopf takes a breath, she completely stops her stroke. And the way Gill’s keen eye sees it, “she literally will come to a complete stop in the water to try to take as long of a breath as she could.” So Gill has been breathing down Hopf’s neck about breathing smarter.

“I ride both of these girls. I’m on them hard. And they sometimes get frustrated and upset. But I try to explain to them, ”˜Do you want to go to a meet and not swim well?’” Gill said. “I was on Emma a lot today (at Tuesday’s practice). I had her redo some things two, three times because I didn’t think they were up to par with what she needed to be doing. It may have taken her two or three tries, but she finally did it. I just don’t want her to go to that meet this weekend and be disappointed. And Emma, a lot of it is confidence, and she reminds me a lot of me when I was that freshman. She doesn’t know what she’s capable of doing yet.”

Towering praise, coming from a former state champ and D-I swimmer.

“It feels really good to hear that coming from her. It just makes me kind of want to go faster now and go even harder to improve my times a lot more now,” said Hopf, who qualified for state in four total events, including the 50 and 100 free.

“She knows what she’s talking about, so I’m trusting her.”

The process has been similar for Barrett, a three-time sectional champ in the 500 free who also qualified for the 200 free and is finals-bound along with teammate Taylor Miles (100 butterfly).


With Barrett’s 500 free, “we’ve certainly taken her to school on it,” coach Taylor said. And that means not just the way Barrett swims it, but the way everyone else does, too.

When Taylor moved to the area two years ago, he noticed both his girls and a majority of swimmers around here “front-loaded the swim way too much.” In essence, burning out way too fast for a race that lasts 20 lengths of the pool.

“I’ve taught our swimmers that race doesn’t really begin until after the 200,” Taylor said. “We started winning a lot of races. That was the big thing, is getting them to control themselves the first eight lengths.”

When it comes to spewing more specific secrets, Taylor doesn’t want to give much away. But in bigger meets, like last weekend’s sectional, he’ll compartmentalize the race practically yard by yard with Barrett.

“We went through that race over and over again, length by length almost,” he said. “It turns out a lot of that strategy we talked about helped her win it.”

Computing Barrett’s progress is tricky, given that a two-year back injury has dulled some of the times she was swimming earlier in her career. Still, Barrett is one second shy of the school record of 5:20, and her coach likes the prospect of her exiting with that mark in the ultimate meet of her career.

“We think we’re in pretty good position to try to break 5:20, and that’s what we’re going up to Indy to do,” Taylor said.

Going bigger and traveling faster than ever before — that’s what Nolan and a host of other Cats accomplished last weekend, and that’s why she’s not grumbling (too much) when Gill orders Nolan to drop and give her 20.

“We got best times in our events,” Nolan said, “so it was all definitely worth it.”

Contact Brendan Perkins

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