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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 26, 2009

Swimming is Bickel’s life, coach says she could have a shot at Olympics

By Jordan J. Michael

GUILDERLAND –– The only thing slowing down Jenna Bickel is the resistance from the water that she swims in.

The 15-year-old Guilderland sophomore swims for the Guilderville girls’ team, made up of both Guilderland and Voorheesville swimmers, and just competed in her third consecutive state meet in Rochester on Friday and Saturday.

In the week prior, Bickel took first place in both the 100-meter backstroke and 50-meter freestyle at sectionals. She posted an All-American time of 57.25 in the backstroke for a personal best.

“I wasn’t even picked to win the 50-free at sectionals, but I wanted it really bad,” said Bickel on Monday in the Guilderland High School library, sitting next to her coach, Breanna Autrey. Bickel finished fourth in the backstroke and 13th in the freestyle at states. “My times were a second slower before sectionals. Winning both events was a thrill.”

Bickel thought that she had a real shot at winning the backstroke at states, but she’s happy to have seen improvement from last year. Bickel placed 22nd in 2007 as an eighth-grader, and 12th in 2008.

“When you get to states, you realize that a handful of swimmers are just as fast as you are,” Bickel said. “I’m just glad to be there.”

“She posted an outrageous time at sectionals,” said Autrey. “I wasn’t worried at all. I knew she would win both events.”

On Monday, Bickel and Autrey decided that she would “taper” for next year’s state competition. Tapering is when a swimmer cuts back the amount of yards she swims in practice before a big event. It is a technique used to make the athlete swim faster.

“All the other girls at states were tapered, but I wasn’t because I tapered for sectionals instead,” said Bickel. “Tapering for states next year will give me a chance at bigger dreams and a better finish.”

Swimming life

Bickel told The Enterprise that she started swimming when she was 9 after her mother suggested that she do so. “It wasn’t a big deal at first,” she said. “It was just something to do.”

She eventually joined the Albany Starfish and then moved to the Albany Jewish Community Center where she practiced three times a week. Bickel earned a spot on the Guilderville team in eighth grade and joined the Delmar Dolphins shortly after.

“I didn’t become competitive until I started swimming with Guilderville,” said Bickel. “Then I started to fall in love with it and that’s when I decided to join the Dolphins, which improved my swimming a great deal. It gave me a ton of confidence.”

“Bickel swims with girls of her caliber on the Dolphins,” said Autrey. “She wouldn’t be where she is if she never joined that team. All those kids can hit the top times like she does.”

Bickel swims two-and-a-half hours with the Dolphins every day after school and on Saturday. Sunday is her only day away from the pool. Sometimes she would go swim with the Dolphins after going through a Guilderville practice.

“I would swim on Sunday, but I guess it’s good to take a day off,” Bickel said. “Sunday is a weird day.”

“I think some of Jenna’s teammates are in awe of her performance,” said Autrey. “Three of them drove out to Rochester and brought signs with them. They wanted to share the moment with her.”

“Coach Autrey and my teammates have been overly supportive of me and it makes me a better athlete,” said Bickel. “They’re fun to be around.”

Bickel is hoping to swim at a Division I college and her 91-percent average should qualify her for a scholarship in the future. “It’s really important for me to keep my grades up,” she said. “I can kiss my future goodbye if I don’t.”

“If I improve enough over the years to make a career out of swimming, then I’d be more than willing,” Bickel said. “But, I can’t predict anything.”

“If she continues on the path that she is right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if she got a shot at the Olympics,” said Autrey. “She’s only 15 and she’s already a star!”

For now, Bickel’s nerves will continue to grow before every race because she knows that everyone is watching her. Those nerves just make her a faster swimmer.

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“I guess it’s safe to say that swimming is my life and I’m OK with that for now,” said Bickel. “I have this ongoing need to improve and it takes me to wherever I want to go.”