Jack, best swimmer in Section II, knows her trade

Pool records threatened every time she competes
Olivia Jack of Scotia-Glenville, a junior who competes for the Burnt Hills-Scotia swimming team, is the top scholastic swimmer in Section II.
Olivia Jack of Scotia-Glenville, a junior who competes for the Burnt Hills-Scotia swimming team, is the top scholastic swimmer in Section II.

She’s so mellow before her races, so composed, that Dirk Francois sometimes wondered if he was reaching Olivia Jack during their first few years working together.

But the issue, Francois said, was not really about making sure Jack was mentally engaged before she entered the pool. What it was really about, he said, was finding a way for the coach to put his own mind at ease that he had done right by Jack.

“She’s not outwardly motivational. She’s not yelling to get pumped up, doing those things other people do. She’s very quiet about it all,” said Francois, a veteran swim coach who leads the combined Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake/Scotia-Glenville team along with Matt Turner. “You have to know what to say to her.”

For the past season or two, Francois has found a reliable tool to fall back on with Jack, now a 16-year-old junior at Scotia-Glenville. A prop, really. At meets he’s confident his team will win, he encourages Jack to look for inspiration from the past and gives her some freedom to pick her own individual events.

“At those meets,” Jack said, “I’ll take a look at the record board first.”

Usually, there is one or two pool records that catch her eye. Usually, she breaks one or two on such days.

Chuck Dunham laughed when he heard Francois does that with Jack. It made so much sense.

“Olivia,” said Dunham, who stepped down as Shenendehowa’s girls’ coach after last season and is still the school’s boys’ coach, “always likes going after someone faster than her.”

The problem is there are few active scholastic swimmers, especially within Section II, capable of challenging Jack. At the midway point of this season, Jack has competed in six separate individual events. She’s No. 1 in the section in five of them and second in the other. An All-American swimmer, she already owns Section II’s all-time record in the 100 breaststroke (1:01.48). She’s twice been a runner-up in that event at the state championships, at which last year her time in the preliminaries set a New York State Public High School Athletic Association record for the event before it was broken the next day by Margaret Aroesty of Long Beach. This past June, she was a few tenths of a second shy from qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

“She’s a kind of talent that only comes along once in a while,” Turner said of Jack, whom he’s worked with for two years. “She’s one of the best athletes in the state — and not just for swimming.”

That’s how Dunham, Jack’s club coach with the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Piranhas, also sees it. Jack, who already owns the Plainsmen pool’s record in the 100 breaststroke, is set to go after the top marks in the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly today at the seventh annual Shenendehowa Invitational, one of the top local competitions of the season. If the 5-foot-10 swimmer delivers another memorable performance, it won’t shock Dunham who first saw her compete as an eighth-grader.

“You already knew who she was then,” said Dunham, who often has Jack swim against boys when she trains with the Piranhas. “If you watched her swim one lap, you could tell she was dripping with natural talent.”

That season was the first in which Jack committed herself to swimming. She’d loved the water since she first splashed around in it during her infancy while living in Barbados, but also liked to play soccer in the fall. Francois had convinced her to give school swimming a shot as a seventh-grader, but it didn’t stick.

“She tried it for two weeks,” he said, laughing. “Then she said, ‘That’s it. I’m going to go play soccer.’ ”

Jack joined the next year. Natural physical gifts were there from the start, but she has refined her technique these past few years. During school workouts, she often gets her own lane, and Francois estimates she regularly swims 1,000 to 2,000 more yards than her teammates at practices.

“She helps push all of us to work hard because she’s at her level and we try to get as close as to where she is that we can each get,” said teammate Kylie George, a senior at Scotia-Glenville. “As a team, we all work hard individually. We’re good about not comparing ourselves to her.”

Multiple schools from each of the major Division I conferences are interested in Jack, who has competed well in national events and spent time last spring working out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado. One of the top students in her class, Jack — who plays viola, and has dabbled with piano and guitar — wants to be a medical doctor. Between her academic ability and athletic prowess, she won’t hurt for options.

“Really, there’s not many campuses across the country she wouldn’t have the chance to swim at,” Dunham said. “Her choice is really going to be about where she wants to go.”

Jack’s choice today is to go after a couple more local pool records, a prospect that motivates her but also leaves her a little anxious. Going after records excites her, she said, but the shy teenager doesn’t covet the recognition that comes with such successes.

“It’s humbling,” she said, “because then everyone sees your name.”

Categories: High School Sports, Sports

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