Girls' swimming storylines: Eager to hit the water

Girls' swimming storylines: Eager to hit the water

Rumsey's improvement with Chargers clear to see

CHAMPAIGN — Two years ago, Centennial diving coach Don Waybright couldn't stand to watch Lizzie Rumsey dive, so he'd turn away every time the then-Urbana sophomore's turn came up.

Rumsey had all of the power and the flexibility to become a successful diver, but she was constantly at risk of hitting the board on her way down.

"It was literally scary to watch her," Waybright said. "She's got a huge gash on her leg from where she hit the board. It wasn't good."

When Rumsey transferred to Centennial last year, Waybright knew he had some work on his hands. Waybright also knew he had plenty to work with.

"I knew the power was there," Waybright said. "It was just misdirected. ... We just had to change the way that we went about getting that power to work for us instead of against us. That's what's happened. She's learned to take that power, push it out from the board and do the tricks."

Waybright broke down Rumsey's dive, from her hurdle to her diving position to her entry into the water, along with simply keeping her eyes open throughout the process.

Right away, it worked. Rumsey won the sectional meet a year ago. The goal was to make the top 16 and qualify for the semifinals at the state meet, but she wasn't able to perfect her final dive and finished 20th.

Heading into the postseason this year — which starts Saturday at Centennial's Unit 4 Pool in the Champaign Central Sectional — Rumsey already owns a Big 12 title. Plus, she took third at the Palatine Diving Invitational, which included many of the top divers in the state, this past Saturday.

Waybright thinks she's a contender to finish as high as second at the state meet behind New Trier's Jessie Creed, who is virtually a lock to win.

"As long as the pressure doesn't get to her and she can hit her dives, she'll be in there," Waybright said. "I think she's in control of her own destiny. If she goes up there and does all of her dives and hits, I think she can make top six."

Immediately following the state meet, Rumsey will join up with a coach from George Washington, which is one of several schools — including Illinois — to offer her a scholarship or express interest.

First, Rumsey will compete in Saturday's sectional meet, where Danville's Gabi Springer is the biggest obstacle standing between Rumsey and her second straight title.

All the while, Waybright will be standing by, eyes fixed on an athlete that two years ago, he couldn't even bear to watch.

"Just looking at her from two years ago to now, it's just night and day," Waybright said. "You wouldn't even think she's the same diver."

Illineks keep leaning on Rajic, Broaders

URBANA — A year ago at this time, Ema Rajic proved herself as one of Illinois' all-time great swimmers. At the Urbana Sectional meet, Rajic broke state records in the 100-yard breaststroke and the 200 individual medley.

Starting at Saturday's Champaign Central Sectional, she'll begin to see how an even more difficult training regimen paid off this season when she swims the same events.

"We feel great with Ema," Uni High coach Dave Young said. "There's nobody that outworks her. She's certainly put in all of the work that she needs to. With her, it's a matter of going in and focusing on what she can control and not get caught up with what everyone else is doing and just going in and enjoying her senior season."

Rajic, a California commit, could have attempted to set another state record in the 100 butterfly, but instead, she and the coaching staff decided she should swim in the same events, along with two relays on Saturday. Rajic likely won't be the only Illinek to qualify individually out of Saturday's sectional. Freshman Reed Broaders has already broken state-qualifying barriers, and Young doesn't think she'll be fazed by the stage.

"She's just a freshman, but I don't think she'll be too intimidated," Young said of Broaders. "She's a good competitor. I think she'll have a good time on Saturday, and we'll see what happens. She loves to compete, and I think she's really looking forward to Saturday. She's just one of those kids that just loves to race."

Maroons hitting stride at right time

CHAMPAIGN — This is the time of year that swimmers are able to see, in a literal way, how their training has paid off. As teams taper for the season's biggest meets, it's not unusual to set season-best marks.

So far, Katie VanHootegem's Champaign Central swimmers have seen positive gains in practice.

"I'm confident in the girls that they're going to taper really well," she said. "They didn't rest for conference, so at sectionals, I'm really excited to see some time drops. In practice, we've seen some fast sets, and they're not only impressing me, but they're impressing themselves with how fast they're going."

Particularly, junior River Jones has seen time drops in practice in the 100 breaststroke and has high hopes heading into the postseason.

"This year she's seen a lot of improvement in her freestyle, but also in her breast stroke," VanHootegem said. "(Monday) in practice, I think she and I were both kind of shocked at the time she went."

VanHootegem has also seen positive gains from Maddie Heiser, who will narrow down her events after serving as a utility swimmer all season.

Saturday will test how far one of the Maroons' hardest workers has come.

"She's just been killing it in the pool and in the weight room, and no matter what I throw at her, she comes out on top, so I'm looking forward to seeing what she's going to be able to do Saturday," Vanhootgem said of Heiser. "In swimming, you can be a really hard worker, you can be really good at training, you can be really good mentally and physically, and I think she encompasses it all. She's got that total package that every coach looks for in an athlete."