BRUNSWICK HIGH SCHOOL junior swimmer Jessica Russell is gearing up for the postseason.

BRUNSWICK HIGH SCHOOL junior swimmer Jessica Russell is gearing up for the postseason.

BRUNSWICK

The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A Swimming and Diving Championships are right around the corner and one competitor who can certainly make some waves has been largely under the radar, so to speak.

Brunswick High School junior Jessica Russell, back from a year off, is quietly turning heads this winter as she continues to post fabulous times.

Russell, who owns a ton of individual records as a member of the Long Reach Swim Club at the Bath Area Family YMCA, is gearing up for high school swimming’s postseason, i.e., conference and state championships.

George Almasi

George Almasi

And, the limelight will surely be on this affable swimmer.

Want to know how good this one is?

Try this: going into this week, Jessica is ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in six of eight individual events IN THE STATE!

Jessica is seeded first in the 200 freestyle ( 1: 57.64), the 500 free ( 5: 09.92) and the 100 backstroke (1:00.53), while she’s second in the 200 individual medley (2:14.36), 100 butterfly (59.26) and 100 free (54.83). She’s ‘only’ fifth-best in the 50 free (25.50, the top spot owned by Mt. Ararat’s Celia Ouellette at 24.42).

“She would certainly be considered one of the top two or three swimmers in Class A right now,” said Brunswick coach David Bright. “Brunswick has had some top swimmers over the years: Abby King, Jessica Alcaide, among others, but they were not as versatile so didn’t rank near the top in so many different events.

“It is interesting, and impressive that the 500 free had not been considered her best event and she is about 20 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor.”

School record falling

Jessica currently owns four BHS records: 200 and 500 freestyle, 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke. She has her sites on several others.

Let’s hear her story.

The 16-year-old stated swimming with LRSC when just 7 years old.

She swam for LRSC and Brunswick her freshman year (only a State Class A winner in the 100 back and second in the 200 free!), but late-season doldrums paved the way for her one-season high school sabbatical last winter.

“ My freshman year was really good in the middle of the season, like my best season ever, but towards the end I couldn’t get down to the times that I had earlier in the season. And, I thought that maybe I was swimming too much.”

Like most Mid-coast region swimmers, time management is the number one priority. What with LRSC swim practices in the afternoon and high school at night, there’s little down time from late November to mid-February when the state meets roll around.

A normal day has Jessica hurrying from school to make the 3 p.m. Long Reach practice with Jay Morissette, assistant “Sponge” and the others.

Depending on what time the Dragons work out at the Bowdoin College pool, Jessica might get a bite to eat and do a little homework before her high school teammates get together. If she’s lucky, she may have an hour or so later for more homework. Never a dull life for these swimmers.

Her thoughts? “I think it builds character.”

She has risen to the top this season, for sure.

“I think her most impressive performance was at the Morse dual meet,” said Bright. “Two days earlier she had tied — to the one-hundredth of a second — Abbie King’s 100 butterfly school record (59.26). She had the opportunity to try again and succeeded in going faster to gain sole possession of the mark.

“Then, within 15 minutes she was back on the blocks for the 500 free. Although she could have cited fatigue and cruised to an easy win, she chose to push herself and ended up at 5:09, 10 seconds faster than her best, and faster than any Maine high school swimmer has been in years.”

A team member

Swimming, for Jessica, is fun in that she’s a team member, which she loves, but she’s also dependent on her own skills and work ethic to thrive.

“I like that, actually. How hard you work matters. You can work really hard and you’re still part of a team, but maybe the team still has a setback. You have to focus on yourself, too. And that will depend on how good you will do.”

“Jessica has had a great commitment to the sport and a work ethic that has helped her to succeed,” offered Bright. “Even on days when the schedule has kids coming directly to us after a demanding practice with Jay, she is not only a full participant in our practice, but continues to push herself and train hard. She maintains a positive attitude and is always willing to put team first.”

“With Long Reach, especially, we’re like a family. Everybody’s so comfortable with each other.”

Competing at two different levels can be trying sometimes.

“At the high school meets, sometimes I find myself thinking, ‘Oh, maybe I don’t have to try as hard in a meet. But, it depends on if I’m going for a first time, or to qualify. At Long Reach, I’m always going for a best time.”

“Jessica had one year with high school swimming, and then one without,” said Bright. “We are all pleased that, given that experience, she chose to return. Doing club and school swimming, along with excelling in a demanding academic schedule, is a real challenge, and requires discipline and commitment.

“Like all swimmers, Jessica has gone through periods of improvement and plateaus. One of the things she has been able to do well is to ‘diversify’ and develop in different events and strokes, which will make her a more valuable team member. She certainly has the ability to compete at the Division I level.”

Like most competitors, Jessica always sets goals.

“Definitely, I’m always trying for best times. And, hopefully, those times will place me at (YMCA) Nationals, which are in April. That is my major goal. My high school goal is to get a lot of the team records. I’m close to the 200 IM and the 100 free. And, I’d like to get ‘Swimmer of the Meet’ at the state meet!”

Obviously, Jessica has drawn much interest from colleges and she’s already planning some campus visits, her “dream schools” being Stanford and Princeton. But, she’ll also look at others with an eye to academics.

Morissette is effusive in his praise as well.

“Jessica has always been a strong swimmer with an incredible work ethic,” said Morissette. She has always set lofty goals and that hasn’t changed. She has learned how to take ownership of her training and racing and still try to keep perspective on what’s really important. She is setting herself up to be an outstanding collegiate swimmer and with the right fit and right program she could achieve great things and go very far.

“Right now, there are four LRSC swimmers with 2012 Olympic trial cut times ( Niall Janney, James Wells, Won Ho Chang, Jessie Alcaide). She is working to make a cut time and it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities for Jessica to join that list for this or the 2016 trials.”

Morissette feels the juggling of two swim programs can be a vexing one for all concerned.

“High school swimming has so many positive attributes and we were happy that she was able to make it work this season,” he said. “The Maine Principals Association does not always make it easy for more talented swimmers to participate in high school swimming. Aside from that, the added pool time has been great and the ‘team’ atmosphere is always a rewarding environment to be around.

“ It also brings her some challenges, but so far she has been an excellent time manager and trouble shooter, and in the long run, this will make her a more capable citizen. Coach Bright has been terrific and is working very hard to make Jessica’s high school swimming work with her age- group swimming.”

Morissette likes Jessica’s whole body of work

“Jessica’s work ethic is unequaled on the team,” he said. “She never has, or makes, excuses. She is always positive and a good leader. She is also a very smart swimmer and a student of the sport. Race strategies and race preparation are real strong points for her. She is just as willing to be on a relay of nationals swimmers as she is to be on a relay with first-year swimmers and she will smile the whole time.

“All of her peers respect her as a swimmer, teammate and person. She is always open to constructive criticism. She is quick to find make up practice time if she needs to miss a workout due to studying or some other reason, and sometimes swims on weekends.”

To wit, Jessica says she’ll take only a couple of weeks off following the swim season, which ends with the National YMCA Championship in Florida.

“Jessica over the years has set some 50-plus team records and a dozen or so state records,” lauded Morissette. “She just swam a 500 at a high school meet that makes her the fourth fastest 500 female swimmer in Maine history!

“Her drive to compete at the highest level always is something we are working on. When we attend the summer championships in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, Jessica has always stayed in a hotel so she can maximize her rest and comfort to better set up her racing. Her teammates are working really hard on her for this summer’s meet that she joins them camping for the meet because sometimes fun is just what is needed to do better!”

Jessica’s next chapter in lifevis also right around the corner.

“We have started the ball rolling on possible colleges to consider,” said Morissette. “My hope is that she will have plenty of schools courting her skills and she can get the pick of her choice. A nice reward for years of hard work and dedication.”

To the end, Jessica remains levelheaded with her successes.

“Sometimes I’m happy with my seasons, but I also think there are so many people who are so much faster than me, especially at the national level, and I would say, ‘Oh, I’d like to be that good.’

“So, I like to think I can keep getting better.”

GEORGE ALMASI is the Times Record sports editor. He can be reached at [email protected]timesrecord.com