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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 24, 2011

Bickel leaves the water as a winner

By Jordan J. Michael

GUILDERLAND –– Jenna Bickel is a superior swimmer when it comes to the backstroke, but don’t ask her about it. She’ll disagree and say that the race was close.

“I don’t really feel like that,” said the senior, who defended her state title in the 100-yard backstroke in Buffalo with a time of 55.93 on Saturday. It was her final race as a member of the Guilderville swim team. “There’s always someone better out there,” Bickel said.

True, but not in New York State, at least.

“She turns on this special gear when she’s in the water,” said Guilderville coach John Urbanski. “She’s very focused and very confident.”

At 5 feet, 10 inches, Bickel benefits from her height. Swimmers who compete in backstroke tend to be taller anyway, but Bickel’s extraordinary reach helps her gain advantage during a race. Her work ethic helps, too.

“I was always pretty good at backstroke, so it became my main thing,” said Bickel. Swimming on her back, it may be hard to see, but Bickel said that she sees her opponents in her peripheral vision.

“I do pay attention to them,” she said. “I go faster if I see them creeping up.”

Urbanski told The Enterprise that it’s all in Bickel’s hips, which she uses for rotation. “She covers more ground than most,” said Urbanski. “She’s a smart swimmer –– knows how to use her body.”

Bickel will compete in the Olympic Trials for backstroke in June before she starts swimming for Division I Penn State University next year. She isn’t giving herself much of a shot to make the Olympics and she won’t be the best Penn State has to offer for backstroke when she arrives, she said.

Everyone chased Bickel when she was in high school waters, but now she’ll have to chase others in the pool.

“It’s better that way because it takes the pressure off and gives me a chance to improve,” Bickel said. “I’ll work as hard as I can and feel out the training. I’m excited to find my full potential.”

Coincidentally, Bickel signed to Penn State around the same time as the charges came down on Roger Sandusky, who’s been charged with multiple counts of child abuse. Sandusky is a former assistant football coach at Penn State and the allegations have tarnished the entire Happy Valley community.

Bickel has heard all the negative comments, but loves the school anyway. She attended a football game, and loved that, too. She recognizes Penn State’s strong community, so she knows they’ll get through all of the disappointment.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with swimming, so I’m still very excited to go there,” Bickel said. “What happened is very bad, but I didn’t realize that until I started hearing more about it. I was surprised.”

Swimming is like a full-time job for Bickel. During the summer and fall, she has two practices per day. Over the winter, it’s only one per day, but that’s still plenty of work. “I love the people I swim with,” she said.

Bickel was trying to break the New York State record on Saturday, but 53.98 is a hard time to make. In no way is she discouraged about not breaking the record. Bickel was just glad to defend her title and go out as a winner.

“It feels really good,” Bickel said. “It was a nice way to end my high school career.”

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