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Kelly poised for podium climb

Larry Fisher
Wednesday July 19, 2006
Lloydminster Meridian Booster

A year older and a year better – or so it would seem for local swimming sensation Jessica Kelly.

Last year, as a 14-year-old, she became the first-ever Lloydminster Aquanaut to find the podium at Club Nationals, and now roughly 12 months later Kelly is preparing to better that bronze-medal performance in the 50-metre backstroke and perhaps push for a medal in the 50-metre butterfly event.

Despite competing at the bottom end of her age bracket, Kelly made a splash at this past weekend’s Alberta ‘A’ provincials in Edmonton, swimming her way on to Team Alberta and qualifying for nationals in five different strokes.

“It’s the next step and I’m looking forward to it,” said Kelly, who will swim the 50 back, 50 fly, 50 free, 100 free and 100 back at nationals in Calgary July 20 to 23. “Last year I made it to a final and placed, so now I kind of know what it’s like and how good it feels and I’m pumped to do it again.

“My 50 fly time is looking really good this year too, so I’m aiming to make that final as well as improve on my 50 back.”

Kelly was successful in defending her 50-metre backstroke title at provincials, taking gold in the 15 and 16-year-old girls’ division, and will once again be Alberta’s best bet for a medal in that event come nationals. It was an all-around good meet for her, however, as she also managed to bring home bronze in the 50-metre butterfly and set a personal best in the 100-metre backstroke.

While she appears to be peaking at the perfect time, Kelly says there is plenty of room for improvement, both prior to nationals and looking long-term.

“I was pretty happy with my times at (provincials). Almost all of them were my best so far this year and I was within a couple of tenths of my PBs from last year in the 50 back and 50 fly, but I know I still have more in me and hopefully I can prove that at nationals,” said Kelly, adding she’s benefited from training alongside fellow Aquanauts Jonathan Smyth and Cory Totman who compete in the 17-and-over boys’ division.

“We work together a lot, especially with sprints, and they are usually a little bit ahead of me just because they are guys and they are older and stronger,” said Kelly. “But by pushing myself to keep up with them it’s only going to help me in the long run.”

If nothing else, Smyth and Totman provide Kelly with much needed competition – albeit friendly. Swimmers of her calibre are few and far between among summer club members. And more often than not, she finds herself racing primarily against the clock, which makes it difficult for her to truly gauge where she’s at.

“The small-town meets are good too, but you don’t get to see the best of the best until you get to provincials and then nationals,” said Kelly, who was one of only two summer club members to make Team Alberta. The rest of their roster is comprised of winter club members who train year-round as opposed to three or four months during the summer.

“We’re pushing her as hard as we can here, but without the competition I don’t know how much more we can do,” said Aquanauts co-coach Keegan Rutherford. “Jessica’s pretty dominant against the other summer club swimmers, but it’s also nice to see her right in the thick of things at the provincial level against girls who spend 12 straight months in the pool.

“She’s really making a name for herself and our club and obviously we wish her nothing but the best at nationals.”

Meanwhile, the rest of her Aquanaut teammates will be in Edmonton July 20 to 23, competing in the Huma Huma Swim Meet in preparation for regionals at the beginning of August.

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