Tuesday afternoon, five members of the Loveland Swim Club will head off to a Grand Prix meet in Indianapolis with the hopes of attaining a goal — cuts to compete at the Olympic Trials swim meet in Omaha, Neb., which begin at the end of June.
Combined, Alex Nickell, Nick Hatanaka, Pat Jones, Alex Tooley and Ryan Ball will swim at least 14 times with that goal in mind. But as Nickell pointed out, the meet this weekend isn’t an all-or-nothing affair, something they all think will help them in their pursuit.
“We have another chance at it this summer, so that relieves some of the pressure,” said Jones, who will swim in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke, as well as the 1,500 freestyle.
What they all find comfort in is the fact they are doing it together, not alone. They will have a built-in support group of guys who know exactly what they are trying to accomplish, how hard it is to achieve and know precisely what each of them went through to reach this point. Tooley (200 and 400 individual medleys and 100 breaststroke) said that can’t be overlooked. He joined the LSC this past year, and all the big meets he’s gone to prior have been as a solo act.
LSC coach Jim Nickell said all five of them are close to a trials cut in at least one event. They aren’t going with just hope, he said, but with realistic expectations. Alex Nickell and Hatanaka swim first on Thursday, getting the chance to set a positive tone for the group.
“When Nick makes it on Thursday, it will be easier for all of us,” said Alex Nickell, who has the 400 free that day and will also swim the mile. “If he makes it, we all have to make it, right?”
To this, Hatanaka just laughed. Competition, by nature, is pressure, and he may have a little bit more since his brother, Brandon, hit a cut a few months ago. But he thinks the combination of a big meet and knowing another chance looms later is a great balance.
“When you go to that meet, you get the mixture of both,” he said. “You get relaxed, but then you have that nervousness and pressure on you.”
Hatanaka opens with the 200 breaststroke, and will swim the 100 breast and the 50 free, as well. Ball will swim the 100 and 200 backs, the 400 and the mile. In some ways, he’s just happy to be in the position he is so early — just a sophomore at Loveland High School.
“It feels pretty awesome, because they’re all some of my best friends,” he said. “To go to a big meet with them is really cool. I didn’t think I was going to be this close a year ago, but I’m happy I’ve gone this far, so it feels really good.”
Nickell, as a coach, obviously wants them to reach their individual goals. But he also knows as person who leads an entire program, the residual effects of this trip are something that could be felt for years.
“The neat thing is is that there are five of them going, and one of the things we talk about the whole time with (the swim club) is people paving the way,” Jim Nickell said. “It’s a lot easier to be part of a group, it’s a lot easier to do something when somebody has cleared the way, be it a time or a big meet goal. Following behind comes a little bit easier.”
Earlier this year, Jake Ores (now at Virginia Tech) hit a trials cut. Coach Nickell said that showed Brandon Hatanaka it was attainable, and he hit his cut at the end of his freshman season at Minnesota. He’s now shown that to his younger brother, and the hope it will continue to trickle down through the ranks. The difference is, these five can all do it while still competing in high school. Alex Nickell is a senor at Mountain View, as is Tooley at Fossil Ridge. Jones and Nick Hatanaka are juniors at Loveland.
The last Loveland swimmer to hit a trials cut while still in high school was Jay Schryver, and he did it his junior year at Loveland. That was back in 1996.
“This group can do the same thing,” Jim Nickell said. “They can make it easier for the guys coming behind them. That’s what tradition is. That’s what a tradition of excellence is.”