Aquagirls’ one-of-a-kind coach

Energetic Patterson leads NCMP swimmers into state meet

At many of the Newton-Colfax-Mingo-Pella swim team’s meets, the decibel level at various pools often reaches deafening levels. Especially at the Aquagirls’ home pool at the Newton Y. In an exciting race, the echoing of the crowd noise inside the pool makes it quite difficult to hear anything but an overall roar.

But one can always hear Sarah Patterson.

No matter what the circumstances of a meet are, the Aquagirls’ coach can be easily distinguished by her pattented call to her swimmers — a two-syllable shout that motivates the Aquagirls to give just a little extra effort.

“You can hear it especially in the turns,” said junior Carly Colville, who will swim in four events at the state meet in Marshalltown Saturday. “It just gets you going.”

It’s impossible to know if Patterson’s call has a measurable effect on the times of her swimmers. But she’s been doing it for a long time and her teams have had an enormous amount of success over 19 years as head coach, so there’s no reason to stop.

“It was born out of the inability to whistle,” Patterson said. “Some coaches can whistle really loud. It’s something they can hear in the water. I don’t have a name for it. After 20 years, I guess it’s become my trademark.”

Patterson said she also does the call in practices so that at competitions, it’s something her swimmers associate with training and working hard.

“We’re kind of trained to hear it,” said sophomore Hannah Scotton, who will swim in two events Saturday. “I’ve been hearing it my whole swimming career. You can tell you’re going to get a good time when you do.”

Other teams and coaches surely take notice as well. Patterson is always right at poolside or pacing the length of the pool and following her swimmers, shouting out her encouragement along the way.

“I’m sure that girls from other teams are like, ‘There’s that Newton coach that makes that weird noise,’ but I don’t care,” she said.

But Patterson’s call isn’t the only mannerism that sets her apart. During the final pool length of a tight race, or if an Aquagirl individual or relay is closing in on a school-record time, she’ll be cheering just as much, if not more, than any parents in the stands.

“I just get lost in the moment,” Patterson said. “It’s definitely not my personality if you were to know me outside of the pool. When I watch the girls swim ... when you watch them work so hard all season long, it’s just exciting to watch them get in there and mix it up.”

Like her unique call, Patterson’s cheering antics seem to help her swimmers dig a little deeper.

“When she’s jumping up and down telling you to go a little faster, you need to go faster,” Colville said.

The fans appreciate it, too. Patterson said she’s received many compliments — all positive, and even from parents of other teams — showing their appreciation for her and assistant Chris Forsyth’s coaching style.

“I’ve actually had community members say, ‘We love your enthusiasm,’ to both me and Chris,” she said.

Patterson has directed NCMP to arguably its best season in school history. Its 10-1 dual record is an all-time best, and last Saturday, the Aquagirls had their best-ever regionals showing by taking second at Southeast Polk. They set eight school records this fall and won the North Central Iowa Conference for the first time in Patterson’s tenure. They’ll cap off 2012 tomorrow with seven entrants across five events at state.

Aquagirls’ strength in youth

What makes NCMP’s season even more remarkable is the fact that so much of its success is due to its underclassmen. The Aquagirls had a deep talent pool of freshmen and sophomores this year, evidenced prominently by the group of five girls that will swim at Marshalltown tomorrow. As a junior, Colville is the oldest of the group. The others include sophomores Rachel Prendergast and Hannah Scotton, and freshmen Sydney Jenkins and Samantha Hedrick. Senior Sidney Griffith also will make the trip as an alternate.

“It didn’t really hit us until regionals. We looked at the composition of our three relays and were just like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” Patterson said about the amount of talented young swimmers on this year’s team. “It’s incredible to think that even on the regional team, we only had two seniors. It bodes well for the future and we want to build on it.”

As great as this season has been for the Aquagirls, it’s scary to think that with so much talent coming back next year, 2013 could be even better.

“It’s really motivating to know we have these really good swimmers coming up and we don’t have to worry so much about losing swimmers,” Scotton said.

Saturday’s rundown

NCMP will compete in three different individual events at state and in two relays. Colville will be the first one up, swimming in the first heat of the 200-yard freestyle. She qualified 18th out of 24 and is in the first heat. Hedrick will be up next in the 50 freestyle, where she qualified with the eighth-best time in the state and is in the third and final heat. The next event is the 100 butterfly, which includes Scotton and Colville. They qualified eighth and 11th. Colville is in the second heat, and Scotton in the third. Hedrick will be back in action next in the 100 freestyle, where she qualified sixth to put her in the third heat. Two events later, NCMP competes in the 200 freestyle relay. The foursome of Colville, Prendergast, Scotton and Hedrick qualified 14th and is in the second heat. After two more events, the Aquagirls are up again in the final race of the day — the 400 freestyle relay. The team of Colville, Prendergast, Jenkins and Hedrick qualified 11th and is in the second heat.

All events have 24 entrants and are run in three heats.

Colville and Scotton return plenty of state experience. Colville swam at Marshalltown last year in three relays. Scotton did as well, and placed 20th in the 100 butterfly. Prendergast also swam in a state relay last year.

That leaves Hedrick and Jenkins as the only two in the group that haven’t swam at state. But according to Patterson, having the right mindset should make that a non-issue.

“We talked about the Parade of Teams and how you have two choices: You can make it overwhelming, or you can make it exciting,” Patterson said. “We try to take the fear and unkown out of the equation. Make if more of a nervous-excitement than a nervous-terror.”

NCMP placed 22nd out of 35 teams that scored at state last year. There are 55 teams total in Iowa.

The state meet begins at Marshalltown’s YMCA at noon with the Parade of Teams. The meet also is streamed for free online at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/ighsau-state-swim-meet.