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Southwest Orange Thursday, Sep. 11, 2014 5 years ago

Youth movement: Trio of two freshmen and an eighth grader will lead Windermere Prep girls swimming

by: Steven Ryzewski Senior Sports Editor

WINDERMERE — Overlooking the on-campus pool at Windermere Prep is a record board.

Subtly tucked under a walkway overhead, its presence looms large for the swimmers who train and compete at the facility. 

The board is adorned with names of past Lakers swimmers and their records and — if a trio of swimmers on the this year’s girls team has its way — it will look very different in the near future. 

“I want to get my name on the record board as much as I can,” Lyndsey Huizenga said with a smile.

Huizenga, an eighth-grader, along with freshman swimmers Rafaela Rivero and Sabrina Lasch, is part of a youth movement looking to elevate both the boys and girls programs in coach John Hodgdon’s third year at the helm.

Hodgdon lost a talented group of veteran swimmers to graduation after the 2013 season and has been excited to see that loss offset by the rise of his youthful trio.

“The program’s pretty young,” Hodgdon said. “My job is to get these kids to fall in love with swimming — these three (Huizenga, Rivero and Lasch) already are.”

They’re in love with the sport — and also pretty good at it. All three competed in some capacity at the regional level in 2013 as seventh- and eighth-graders. The young swimmers are all fast learners, having each picked up the sport only within the past few years. Each with their own strengths, Hodgdon has been amazed to see how far they have come since the first time they lined up next to varsity swimmers that were, in some cases, more than five years older than them.

“The first meet I took them to that was a state-level meet, they were almost stone-cold — (they) had completely straight faces and were shaking in their boots,” Hodgdon recalled. “Now, they know that they’re going to go up against these (older) kids and they’re confident, they’re ready for it. They’re chomping at the bit to try and beat them (older swimmers).”

Lasch, the shortest of the three, remembers that first meet — and craning her neck to look up at the older swimmers she would race against.

“It was really scary, because they were so big, and you can kind of tell who’s fast,” Lasch said. “You look up and you’re like, ‘Oh, gosh.’”

Of course, much has changed since then. With the seniors from a season ago now graduated, the trio has become leaders within the program, and it’s a distinction in which they take great pride.

“From being the seventh-grader looking up to the seniors to now people are looking up to me — it feels really nice,” Rivero said.

Whether his swimmers can compete at a state level this year is something Hodgdon said will play out on its own this season, though, given the fast-learning nature the girls have displayed, he is optimistic. What excites the third year coach the most, though, is the idea he has three more seasons after this fall with this young core in tact.

“I’m looking at this year, but I have to look a few years in advance,” Hodgdon said. “The cool thing about it is, them being young, they’re bringing more young swimmers into the program.”

The girls, themselves, are all excited for this year with their own respective goals — but all three are cognizant of the potential they have, collectively, to elevate the program in the years to come.

“It’s actually really exciting to know that you have (teammates) that are going to be here for a while,” Huizenga said.

They will be there for a while and are leaders in the present. The girls, who are quick to help their younger teammates with honing their strokes and improving, are role models.

“They’re all model citizens — these girls are straight-A students; they’re involved with student government,” Hodgdon said. “So, when you talk about leadership, it’s not just in the pool.”

Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].

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