Just three days before what is sure to be the biggest race of their lives, the Newton freestyle relay teams were surprisingly calm.
Gathered in a circle stretching before Wednesday’s practice, senior Luke Norcross and freshman Austin Bunker spotted their fellow relay swimmer and local celebrity Matheus Pinto strolling out to the pool.
It’s clear these guys see Pinto as the star of the show, especially when Norcross gave him a champion’s welcome by promptly and triumphantly announcing Pinto’s name as he approached his teammates.
Pinto will line up against the best freestyle swimmers in the state this Saturday in both the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle events. His times in both events suggest Newton fans will be celebrating at least two podiums this weekend.
“I’m in really fast races, the 50 free and 100 free, and I have the third best time,” Pinto noted. “So, it’s going to be whoever feels better in the meet, whoever wants it more will take the state champion title. I’m not nervous right now, but I probably will be on Saturday. I have try to concentrate, think about my practices and just be as positive as possible and believe in myself.”
Pinto’s individual accomplishments cannot be overlooked, but swimming is a team sport that masquerades as an individual one.
Although Pinto has been the catalyst for much of the team’s success this season, the value of his relay partners should not go overlooked. They have put in the work as a team, supporting each other through early morning and late afternoon practices.
“We have put in a lot of hard work,” senior Ryan Jolivette said. “Two-a-days, three times a week, every week all season so this has been the hardest sport I have ever competed in. I’ve been doing this since I was eight and it this season has been a lot of hard work.”
“It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of hard practices and a lot of early mornings,” said Bunker.
“Well everybody, during the season, worked hard every day,” Pinto added. “We had to wake up at 5 in the morning to come to practice, and now we finally accomplish our goal to qualify for state. We are going with everything we have to that meet. We are going to do our best.”
The 400 and 200-yard freestyle relay teams that will represent the Cardinals this weekend consist of a good mix of old and new. Jolivette and Norcross have been at Newton for four years, and both are ecstatic to finally make it to this point. It’s clear they both see this as a fantastic way to end their high school careers.
“The last four years, the whole goal of my swimming career has been to make it to state,” Norcross said with a grin. “So this whole experience has been awesome. Hopefully we will be able to duplicate what we did at districts.”
The other two Newton swimmers are new to this experience. Pinto, although a senior, is entering a whole new cultural experience with the state meet. Bunker, being a freshman, gets the opportunity to learn from swimmers who have worked tirelessly to get to this point.
“It feels pretty cool being the freshman on the relay team,” Bunker said. “It’s great to be able to help them make it.”
They have spent the season working as a team and now they get to go to Iowa’s biggest stage to prove they can succeed against all those who have been working with the same goal in mind.
“To podium would be huge. It would be amazing,” Norcross added. “It’s not something I have even dreamed about, so I’m excited to even be there but to think of the fact that we might go on the podium would be just crazy”
“To podium would be crazy. We definitely want that. I kind of made a bet with coach (Dave Hook) that he would shave his head and get his ears pierced if we did,” Jolivette added. “He kind of smiled it off, but we shook on it. We’ll see about that. We definitely want to drop time in both relays. We have the school record within our grasp. And of course we want to move up in the rankings, and be as perfect as we can.”
All trivial bets aside (although coach Hook may not find it so trivial), the Cardinals’ relay teams have a legitimate shot to hit the podium, especially in the 200 freestyle where qualifying times suggest shaving just a tad more than a second would place the Cardinals on the podium. This week is the last chance they will get to improve their time, which could seem like a daunting task, but these guys welcome the hard work and know exactly where they can save time.
“Our goal is just to drop time,” Jolivette said. “Right now we’re working on flip turns and relay exchanges. It’s just the small stuff. If you get that last breath in and have a perfect flip turn then you’re in really good shape.”
The best practice may just be swimming with, or against, each other. As each of them stated, competition is a huge aspect of their training. And with all of them being state-level swimmers, they are all of course extremely competitive.
“The four of us all go in separate lanes and the first thing we do is race each other every single set, every single practice,” Norcross said. “We’re all very competitive”
Bunker was not shy about his competitive nature, saying “we always race during practice, and I always want to beat them.”
The pressure on them to perform this weekend will be immense. Not only will there be pressure to perform for their teammates, but Marshalltown is a venue with dual stadium seating and a 10-lane pool. This will be a brand new experience for all four swimmers and one they are never going to forget.
“There’s more pressure because it’s not just swimming for yourself but for the group,” Pinto said. “So, if you mess up, if one person has a false start then the whole team is done. We have to be more careful.”
Finally, Norcross summed up the team’s view on the situation at hand.
“It helps that you have three other guys that depend on you. That kind of adds to the pressure, and we all love pressure.”