High water marks: More and more, Big Isle swimmers starting to get back in flow

  • Nine-year-old Mia Yamasaki of the Kona Aquatics competes in the 50-yard breaststroke (Rani Henderson/Hawaii Sport Events)

  • Hilo Aquatic Club’s Ariel Wakana (10 years) soars in the 100-yard butterfly at Saturday’s Big Island Swimming age-group meet at HPA. (Rani Henderson/Hawaii Sport Events)

WAIMEA – Despite chilly winds and passing showers, it was a time to shine for local youth swimmers during Saturday’s Big Island Swimming age-group meet held at Hawaii Preparatory Academy’s Dowsett Pool.

The second meet on the age-group swim calendar featured three tiers, including one for young developing swimmers under the age of 12, which gave them an opportunity to “test their mettle” in the heated, outdoor 25-yard pool.

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“It is tiered this way because we wanted to pivot from the first meet back in March to allow the younger and developing athletes to be in an environment geared toward their competition as well as our advanced athletes,” said Mark Noetzel, head coach of the Academy Swim Club. “The first meet back in March, was just basically an East-West and by age. There were four sessions and each of them we – per COVID and by the school’s request – we wanted to maintain distance.”

Noetzel said the initial priority during the first meet was to run a safe event with 50 or fewer athletes per session to maintain social distancing. Being that they were able to successfully establish that, they were allowed some changes within the guidelines for the second meet.

“I think they are having a lot of fun today,” Jon Hayashida, coach Hilo Aquatic Club coach, said. “The fact that they are in the water, and the fact that they are seeing swimmers they haven’t seen for so long, I think that’s making the biggest difference right now.

“For some of them it’s their first meet since COVID after 13 months, so the biggest part we are looking for is how much fun are they going to have and that will probably spur them to train harder. We are also looking forward to our next meet in June as we are going to see if we can get some of our times to really improve.”

Hayashida clarified that while the next age-group swim meet is scheduled for June; a venue has yet to be secured. Right now, he is hoping to see a continued pattern of increased turnout.

“The last meet we probably had about 20-plus swimmers and today, we have more than 30,” he said. “Hopefully by the next meet, the majority of them will come back.”

Warrior Aquatic Club head coach Bill Sakovich also hopes to see more kids returning to the pool.

“They did very well,” said Sakovich, who has been a swim coach for more than 60 years. “We also participated in the first meet, but for most of them, today is their first competition. It’s good to see all the younger kids coming out. Right now, the second group — the second tier — there were not many kids so we have got to build that up.”

Sakovich said one of the biggest problems to building up his swim program is the limited pool time due to COVID-19 social distancing protocols.

“At the Kawamoto Pool, we are given two days per week to train,” Sakovich said. “How can you promote swimming when you are very limited in usage? I’m looking forward to getting back to training every day and accommodating more people. We have six or seven kids on the waiting list. But with social distancing you can only allow so many kids in the pool so it’s really tough. We can’t promote a program in swimming without more access. We are very limited so if we can get more access then we can develop more swimmers.”

Kona Dolphins swimmers Kayla Delostrico-Hunt and Nai Morimoto were happy with seeing improvement on their times.

“I think I did pretty good,” Morimoto said. “I dropped 10 seconds on my 100 IM!”

Delostrico-Hunt said, “I also dropped 10 seconds on all of my times. But I’ve been practicing a lot.”

Both credited their success to their Kona Dolphins coaches.

“I think we have really good coaches who train us hard to make us go faster,” Morimoto said.

Kona Dolphins assistant coach Jay Carroll couldn’t be happier with her team’s performance.

“They are doing amazing, they are swimming great,” Carroll said. “I think we have been practicing a little harder and we have more consistency now with the pool times and our swim groups. It’s been a fantastic meet. We had three different sessions and all different age groups and all of our swimmers have either been swimming equal to the best times or taking time off which really shows all of the hard work they have been putting in.”

For Kona Aquatics head coach Dave Gibson it was nice to see his team outside, active, and having fun.

“It was a good learning experience for some of the kids as some of the kids are getting back to swimming again,” Gibson said. “A lot of the kids swam faster and we made sure they saw that. So, a lot of the kids are pretty excited about it. Some of them are getting into better shape and some of them are figuring out what to do a lot better so they are getting faster just by practicing.

“The little kids are starting to get active and get out and this is a good little activity for them as they learn how to swim early, and it’s just good for them for the rest of their lives.”

Eight-year old Kona Aquatics novice swimmer Made Sujaya gave a “double thumbs up” for his very first swim meet.

“I’m nervous and really excited,” he said. “And I’m happy I’m swimming with my friends.”

Luckily Sujaya was designated to swim during the afternoon session for his three events (50-yard backstroke, 50 breast, 50 free), and missed all of the technical difficulties that occurred earlier that morning.

“The timing systems that we purchased back in the 1990s for $13,000 have been really performing well over the years, but it’s starting to show it’s wear and tear,” Noetzel said. “Touch pads and the start system has a shelf life of about eight years and so we’ve gotten three times out of our system. So, one of our volunteers drove over from Hilo with a new start system. He got here an hour later and until he got here, we went with manual timing. We just made it work until the new start system arrived.”

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However, Noetzel understands that it’s just part of the “new normal” of everyday life.

“I think COVID has taught us that when something goes wrong, we find a way to make it work. We can still persevere, push on and get things done. It just took some time to get there, but we got there.”

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