By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Jim Winkler is a first-year head swimming coach at Absegami High School, and he’s taking over both the boys and girls programs, so he has a lot on his plate. When you’re in that kind of situation, you need quality upperclassmen to take the reins and help lead the team to get them acclimated to your style of coaching, and what your expectations are going to be for the season.
Luckily, Winkler has some outstanding student-athletes in the junior and senior class — kids such as Andy Giang and Jess Vankawala — who are dedicated both in the classroom and in the pool. Another young man who has taken it upon himself to become one of the leaders of the team is senior Justin Yin. He’s one of the few swimmers in the program who is a top level club swimmer, and he is being counted on by Winkler not only to be as versatile as possible when it comes to filling out the lineup, but also to set the tone in practice and during meets.
“Justin has been a club swimmer for many years and was a bit of a prodigy in the pool, and he’s always been in the top 10 in his class. He can swim the 100 fly, 100 breast, 200 IM, whatever he goes in he’s fast,” Winkler said. “And he’s a heck of a kid. He volunteered to be a captain for me, and as a first-year coach that is so helpful to have kids like that.”
“At first, my neighbor was a swimmer, so I decided to try it out and eventually grew to like it,” Yin explained about how he got into swimming originally. “My freshman year, we did alright, and as the years have gone on we’ve grown the team and done better. Even if we don’t beat the other teams, we still have good sportsmanship and good teamwork. We like to focus on being positive and cheering each other on.”
Yin’s versatility makes him a huge asset to Winkler when filling out a lineup. The Braves only have 14 boys on the roster, which can make it difficult to fill out relays, but Yin can handle the butterfly, the backstroke and even the 200 IM while also being talented enough to compete in any of the relay events.
“When you have a small team, that’s great. Sometimes kids get pigeon-holed into certain events, but he makes it a lot easier,” Winkler said. “A few meets into the season he was asking me to get into different events because he wants to try for states in certain events. It really helps, and when you can do a variety of things that helps the younger swimmers.”
“Last year, we did make states for our 400 relay, and we managed to do well there and drop our time. Last year we had was a good season. We had a lot of fast swimmers and we had a pretty good relay,” Yin said.
Making things even more difficult during his senior year is the fact that Yin is taking five advanced placement classes, and also is dealing with the college selection process. He has his sights set on prestigious schools such as Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore or Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.
“The toughest thing is probably making sure to maintain my school work while also trying to improve as a swimmer, and being a senior, I also have to deal with the college selection process. Sometimes it can seem a little overwhelming, but you just have to get through it,” Yin said. “I enjoy my AP computer science class. Hopefully I can get into computer engineering.”
While high school swimming is competitive, one of the neat things about the sport is swimmers from opposing teams get to spend time together before and after meets, and get to know each other more so than in most high school sports. That’s one aspect of the sport that Yin said he really enjoys.
“It’s just nice meeting new people. When you are going up against other teams you get a chance to meet a lot of new people,” he said.
Winkler said he knew right from the start that Yin would be one of the leaders he would need to help navigate him through his first year on the deck.
“We can’t fill out a full six-lane pool, partly because I have three or four boys who have never swam before. So, it’s been a tough go as far as being competitive in a six-lane pool,” the coach said. “But Justin has had leadership all the way. My first conversation with him, he said, ‘can I be a captain? I want to help lead the team.’ You can’t have a better first impression than that.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays