Spartan freshman to swim at stateKaitlin Heinen becomes first SHS girl to swim at state in nearly a decade
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
In any other sport, Kaitlin Heinen would be considered a gym rat. For her, though, an amphibious analogy would be more fitting.
Throughout the entire swim season, Heinen didn’t miss a single opportunity to practice.
The freshman was in the pool with the Superior High School swimming and diving team every weekday after school. On Mondays and Wednesdays, she’d get to school at 6 a.m. for an extra hour of practice before the start of classes.
“It’s tough,” Heinen said. “But every morning that I get up — and obviously I’m tired and I know I’m in for another day of hard work — I just think about that if I put in this extra effort, it will show by the end of the season.”
During those days when Heinen swam before and after school, SHS swim coach George Lehman said she’d put in 9,000 yards. Over the course of a week, she’d swim about 20 miles.
“Being Kaitlin, we didn’t have her do the same workout as everybody,” Lehman said. “Especially in the mornings, I would write tighter intervals, faster workouts for her than most of the other swimmers.”
Heinen’s hard work placed her in a league of her own on the Spartan swim team, and on Saturday she will compete in the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Girls Swimming and Diving Championships in Madison. She will swim in the 500 freestyle event.
“It’s exciting,” Heinen said. “I didn’t know if I’d make it or not and I really wanted to go.”
A Spartan girl had not advanced to the state swim meet as an individual since the late 1990s. Rachel Smith advanced in the 100 breaststroke in 1998, and Patricia Larson competing in diving that same year.
The last time the Superior girls were represented at the WIAA state meet in any capacity was 2002, when a pair of relay teams advanced.
Heinen qualified for state by finishing third in the 500 freestyle at Saturday’s sectional meet in Hudson. She also swam individually in the 200 freestyle and then joined three teammates — Grace Elonen, Kelsey Hansen and Tori Johnson — in the 400 and 200 freestyle relays.
Heinen’s individual event times and both relay times set new school records. Until this year, a new all-time record in Spartan girls swimming hadn’t been set since 2003.
“It makes you a little nervous because you want to kind of live up to the expectations,” Heinen said. “I just want to keep dropping time in my events, and I know I can. I really need to work on my turns and my technique. As I get older I think I’ll get stronger and I’ll hopefully keep improving.”
Heinen now holds the SHS school record and pool record in the 500 freestyle and 200 freestyle. She is third all-time in the 100 freestyle and second in the 100 backstroke.
“This is the big question mark I have at the end of the season: How much further can I push her in practices, how much faster can she go?” Lehman said. “In distance swimming the whole thing is keeping a moderately fast to fast pace over the whole distance, and it’s a fine edge between going a little too fast and not quite pushing yourself.”
Lehman said Heinen had little experience pacing herself coming into the season. She’d swum at a moderately fast clip while at the YMCA, but she never had to worry about going out too fast.
When she joined the high school team, Heinen increased her speed through conditioning, and by learning to swim a balanced race, she managed to cut 26 seconds from her time in the 500 freestyle by the end of the season.
The improvement, she said, came about gradually after hours of work in the pool.
“She’s got a great attitude and she is, at this point, capable of challenging herself,” Lehman said.
Still, the SHS coach said it would be nice for Kaitlin to have a teammate, or even a rival from another school, to push her in the distance events.
In the next few years, Heinen thinks she might have a few challengers among the Spartans.
“There’s quite a few that are coming up that I’m going to be excited to watch because I’ve seen their times at Whalers,” Heinen said. “I’ve seen how they’ve grown and they’ve done so well. I can see them coming up here and just doing amazing, especially if they’re willing to put that extra effort in.
“I started off kind of slacking around, and then it just hit me one year that if I don’t start working, if I don’t put the effort in, I’m not going to get any better,” Heinen said. “So I just decided that I’m going to go into this next season and I’m going to swim as much as I can and work as hard as possible.”