By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
When you’re on the Mathletics team in high school, most people don’t expect you to be a good athlete. The misconception about those kinds of students is they have their noses in books 24/7 and are on the outskirts of the social scene at most schools.
But Absegami senior Andy Giang and junior Jess Vankawala are bucking the trend, as they combine athletic ability with big personalities and the ability to dominate in the classroom. This edition’s Old Cape Recycling Scholar Athletes have a lot going for them, and while they may not turn out to be collegiate swimmers, chances are they’ll make a name for themselves in college.
“The first day some of them came in and said they had to miss some days because they have Mathletes,” said Absegami first-year swim coach Jim Winkler. “They are so hard working, both in the pool and out of the pool — the only days they have missed, I’ve known about well in advance and it’s been because of academics, which is awesome.”
Both Giang and Vankawala are among the top students in the school, and getting to that level academically takes a lot of dedication. They are just as dedicated in the pool. Vankawala is one of the better distance swimmers in the area, and Giang has really improved the past four years after coming into high school with no swimming experience, Winkler said.
“Jess comes from an awesome family. Mom and dad are both doctors, they preach hard work from the start, and they are a giving family to the team. They are hosting one of our group parties even though they have so little time with the work that they do. It shows in their kid, who swims distance event after distance event, and shines in the classroom. She’s an awesome kid,” Winkler said. “And Andy has come a long way. As a freshman he was new to swimming, but he’s gotten faster and faster, and has a nice backstroke. He’s kind of floating in and out of A and B relays, and he’s always there when I need him. He’s been stepping up right from the start.”
Like most top student-athletes, Giang and Vankawala said it takes a lot of work and time management to be both a successful student and athlete. There are a lot of late nights and times when you have to bring your books or digital notebook to away meets to find the time to get some schoolwork done.
“I try to balance homework and sports throughout the year. I try to finish my homework as soon as I can or in study hall. I go to school, then go to sports or after-school activities, go home, eat, shower and sleep,” said Giang, who is looking to go to Rutgers University to study computer engineering. “I’m taking five AP classes and they are all really hard, but I’m doing pretty well with them. I just try to motivate myself to finish my work because I know in the end it will lead to good results. I try to catch up on my sleep on the weekends, and I try to hang out with friends (to help relieve the stress).”
“It’s not easy. I’m in two sports and five AP classes. I have to make the most of the breaks and study halls and the weekends. You just have to do what you can,” added Vankawala, who plans to follow in her parents’ footsteps and attend medical school. “We tend to be friends with people who are in our classes. It makes it a lot easier because you can work together on a lot of things. But I’ve also made so many friends swimming, and I play golf, also. With all your teams, you make a lot of friends because that’s who you are with every day.”
Absegami doesn’t have a large swim team on either the boys or girls side, and doesn’t have a ton of club swimmers, which makes it difficult to win a lot of meets in a Cape-Atlantic League that has a lot of great programs, such as Mainland, Ocean City, Atlantic City, Oakcrest, Egg Harbor Township and Vineland. The Braves swimmers know they likely won’t have a winning record by year’s end, but that doesn’t discourage them, as they try to have as much fun as possible each and every meet.
“I think we have a really spirited team. We’re like a family, and even though we may not be the best, we always try to improve and have fun,” Giang said.
“I’ve been swimming since seventh grade, and even though I’ve improved so much, it’s great to see how much everyone else has improved as well. Our teamwork is amazing and the school spirit is great,” Vankawala said. “Now, the classes are getting harder and there are a lot of late nights. It’s been demanding, but I think I’m keeping up with it pretty well. I thought high school would be a little bit easier than it has been, but I think I’ve grown into it.”
Vankawala, who also is a member of the Absegami golf team, said she loves attending Absegami High School because of the atmosphere.
“The school spirit here is amazing, and the teachers are great,” she said. “You hear kids at other schools complain about their teachers and all the work. It’s a lot of work, and it’s not easy, but the whole environment (at Absegami) is amazing.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays