Friday, August 5, 2011
MEGA BLOG: The story of how HHBF rocked Quebec
Alright, hopefully most of you will read the entire thing here, but warning, its long. MY plan was to blog while away, but I bought a Playbook and (long story short), it didn't quite work out the way I wanted it to. Since it was too difficult to type long posts on my phone, I figured I would tweet as much as possible and summarize when I returned to Ontario.
Footnote: I have been asked several times what the advantage is of following me on twitter as opposed to just viewing the tweets on my blog. I wish I had a good answer for that... I guess the main advantage would be viewing the quick posts as opposed to needing to visit the site from your mobile device. But the main advantage would be that you can only see the most recent posts on my blog page... if you missed something, you'll miss it forever. You can view all history of my posts when you follow me on twitter... really its preference. @Coachmikehhbf
Our trip began when Kyle and I left on the 20th for Senior Nationals in Pointe-Claire, Qc. A special thank you to my good friend, Alan Swanston and the Newmarket Stingrays for allowing us to tag along with them, making our stay easier and more affordable. I believe that staying with high profile athletes like 2008 Olympian, Lindsay Seemann and 2 of the fastest swimmers in the country, the Swanston brothers, really made a difference in how Kyle approached the meet. Traditionally, not a strong morning swimmer, Kyle has his work cut out for him to make it past prelims.
We arrived at the Pointe-Claire pool on Wednesday afternoon for a quick training session where I decided that Kyle looked better than I expected. At that point, we decided that Kyle was going to go after everything he could and make this the championship meet. Kyle's first race, 100BK was fantastic, making a PB and club record in the morning of 58.69. This got him into the B final which was much more than we expected. Sadly, I did not take into account that we did not grocery shop and Kyle's caloric intake for that day was far too low. His final swim was still 58.82, but could have been better.
50BK on Friday was even better. Kyle went 27.53 in the morning, which again, got him into the B final. After some good food in the afternoon, Kyle's evening race was much stronger with a final time of 27.28 and placed him 15th overall. Very strong placing and possibly HHBF's best placing ever at Senior Nationals (..?). 200BK the next day was no different, PB in the morning and good enough to make it into the C final in last place. That night, Kyle's goal was to win the C final, but he fell slightly short. Still made a HUGE PB and club record (2:07.65) but came 24th overall.
HHBF finished 57th overall out of 119 teams present and only 67 teams scored. I submitted Kyle for the Rookie of the Meet Award, as his overall results killed any other first timer there, but he lost to someone who placed 13th in 1 event with no other finals. Too bad, really, but there are lots of other swimmers who have left our club to swim for other clubs who barely make it into C finals at Nationals. Here we have an individual who is making B finals on his first appearance. HUGE showing for Kyle at his first Senior Nationals. Congratulations to him!
We then joined Elizabeth Skuriat and Matthew Fox in Montreal for 5 days of fun outdoors at the 2011 Canadian Age Group Championships (Aaron Brautigam was to join us on Wednesday night). We did some light training on Monday afternoon and Tuesday while the competition started Thursday morning. This was going to be a LONG one, as there were nearly 1700 swimmers going and the time lines for the meet were tight. They ended up having to double up the lanes on all distance events and cancelling some relays in order to avoid prelims sessions from running into finals. Combine that with the threat of thunder and lightning and this was going to be an interesting 5 days.
200BK was on day 1 and the combination of Kyle Haas and Matt Fox ensured finals births, but also the possibility of some medal performances. Kyle was technically going in 1st by .02 seconds after his performance in Pointe-Claire and Matt Fox was going in 3rd from his Gold Medal winning time at Provincials. I really felt that both swimmers had a solid chance to win their races.
Matt began the night going into the final in 4th place and was VERY nervous. His race started out slower than usual and he just couldn't get it going. After a disappointing 4th place finish, I wasn't sure how Matt was going to respond. Rather than going into a downward spiral, Matt was actually pretty happy. "Experience" was all he said to me afterwards and went to warm down.
Kyle was up next against his rival, Zach Zandona or Etobicoke (who is technically a year older). Kyle was ahead for the first 100m, then Zach poured it on in the 3rd 50 to make almost a full second lead on the field. Kyle's last 50 was really one to watch as he powered his way from behind and gained on Zach right down to the touch. In the end, Kyle was out touched and scored the silver medal. This was a great race and HHBF's first men's medal ever, but also our first medal in 3 seasons. Given that Kyle's previous best finish was 5th at this meet, a silver medal was a great placing.
Elizabeth's 1500FR was a bit further away from where she was previously, but in a good position for starting out at Acadia in about a month's time.
The next day was 100FR and 50BK. We knew that Matt and Kyle both had chances in 50BK but were not sure where either of them stood in 100FR. As it turned out, pretty well as both made the final in both events with best times (Kyle scraping into the last available spot again... see post from last season). 100FR was up first where Matt looked like he had been doing this for years (a real change from the previous night) and finished in 5th place with a time of 58.04. Kyle later moved up to 8th place in 100FR and set a new club record mark of 53.62.
Right before 50BK, I spoke with Matt and made sure that he was ready to race rather than to participate in this final and his response (which will stay confidential) assured me that he would end up on the podium. Sure enough, Matt finished 2nd with a time of 30.26.
Backstroke is funny outside because there is no ceiling to follow and the sun can get in your eyes. Such was the misfortune of Kyle in 50BK as his entire left side struck the lane rope and cost him the win. Kyle finished 3rd only .05 away from his previous best after being slowed by the lane rope. Not a bad race, but certainly frustrating for him.
History in the making the next day, as both Kyle and Matt made the final in 50FR. History making simply because Kyle ended up snagging a bronze medal with a time of 24.35 (he didn't even make the final in this even last season), but also because Matt Fox had a swim off for an unheard-of 4 way tie for 8th place. In the swim off, Matt blew everyone away and dropped his time to 26, posting the 3rd fastest time of the day. In the final Matt ended up in 5th place with a final time of 26.53.
100BK was a strong even for both Matt and Kyle and before hand, they both looked ready to race it out. Matt was determined to win the event and make up for his podium miss on Wednesday. Kyle looked like he could lower his time from the week previous. This was going to be good. As fate would have it, the sun and no ceiling has little effect on Matt and his second 50 was miles better than the others as he made his way to HHBF's first men's gold medal ever with a final time of 1:04.04. Has also finished 8th in 200FR later in the evening.
Kyle's nemesis (the sun) was once again at large on the last 25 of his race when his elbow crashed into the lane rope, causing him to lose an entire stroke cycle (2 strokes to fix positioning) and came 3rd... but was still .01 faster than he was at Senior Nationals the weekend before. I'm encouraged that there is clearly a faster time in there, but frustrated for him.
Elizabeth and Aaron's races in the time frame were also very solid. Aaron's debut on the National stage in 100BR was equal to his morning swim at provincials (and it was done in the "wavy" pool, not the 10 lane finals pool). His 200BR was a best time as well and he placed 31st in that event. Elizabeth had a few days off during the meet as we decided it best to only swim in 3 events. 200FR was only a couple of tenths off of her best and her 400FR was not far off either. I am very proud of these two and do not want them to get lost in the mix. Each team member was very valuable to the results of the others at this meet: no one can do a 5 day meet on their own!
The last day found Matt Fox missing the final in 400FR (15th) while they doubled up the wavy pool which made it very similar to an open water swim. Kyle made the final in 200IM with the hopes to win it. A couple of snags in the plan for day 5.
1 - This was Kyle's 12th day away from home, his 15th day of taper and his 9th day of racing in 2 weeks. He was getting weak and tired.
2 - All the tents on deck were being removed which eliminated HHBF's home base (Thanks for letting us use your shelters, Cobra and OAK and NEW). Kyle could not find me before his race.
3 - You try to stay excited after maximum race intensity for your 22nd race in 2 weeks... its not easy.
Kyle finished 4th in 200IM in a time slightly slower than he won with at Provincials, which really was a result of the above 3 factors. Simply put: we just ran out of steam.
HHBF finished tied for 39th place with Sudbury/Laurentian out of the 189 teams that participated. This was our highest placing in history and our greatest medal haul (ranked 33rd for total medal haul). Considering that we were struggling to get swimmers into finals for HHBF's entire history, having 2 medalists and a National Champion is a big deal. I'm very proud of all these guys!
Perhaps the most exciting note from all of this is that we have a big pipeline of young swimmers who can see what the older swimmers have done and can say "Okay, that's not so hard, I can do that too!". As I mentioned after the short course season, it is important to be proud of these accomplishments, but just as important for younger swimmers to challenge themselves to get to the same place, now that the barriers have been broken and the "impossible" is now possible. All of the athletes at these meets are just people: they're beatable. The times can be achieved with hard work and dedication, but the dedication and hard work are a must. My challenge to all of you: Join us at this level! Teams across Canada took notice in July and HHBF is now a team that will be recognized and talked about for quite some time. Have some pride; Be a Blue Fin!!
*Incidentally, professional pictures from the weekend can be found HERE and results from the meet can be found HERE.
Happy Trails to Elizabeth Skuriat, who has suited up for HHBF for the last time in a while. She will be swimming for Acadia University in the fall and we wish her luck. She will be missed as she was a cornerstone of what I have been trying to achieve with this team since I took over. The dedication she put forth, coming back from injury to get back to a National level in February was a fantastic example for all Blue Fins. Hopefully she will be back to help us out at Division II next season and for the 2012 Age Group Championships in Calgary. See you soon, Elizabeth!
I will be taking a break from all things aquatic next week so my next post will not come until August 15th at which time I hope to have another interview for you to listen to as well as a wrap up from World Championships (hopefully an interview with some commentary on that). Thank you everyone for a great season! Lets do it all again in September, shall we?
HHBF's top story from the website can be found HERE.