In her own self-deprecating way, Highland standout Jackie Smailis pokes fun at her ability to stand on two feet.
“I’m a really clumsy person,” she said. “I’m probably the clumsiest person ever. I fall all the time. I trip over the air or anything.”
Yet, when you ask Highland coach Ryan Harrington about Smailis’ ability, the first word he uses is “phenomenal.”
Smailis, a junior, is one of the region’s best swimmers, as she finished 10th in the state in the 100 backstroke last year. She’s the Trojans most versatile swimmer, competing in some freestyle events, the 200 medley relay, the 100 fly or wherever else she is needed.
“She’s kind of our go-to girl,” Harrington said. “It depends on the meet. She does everything except the breaststroke because of her knee.”
That would be Smailis’ left knee, the one where she tore an ACL when she was 14 while playing basketball. She then injured her meniscus and tore the ACL again playing soccer her freshman year.
“My brother and my sisters tore theirs too,” Smailis said. “It kind of runs in the family.”
And what an athletic family. Smailis’ three sisters, Donna, Natalie, and Kat, and brother, Steven, all swam and played soccer at Highland. Donna swam for Indiana University.
“She has four siblings, and she’s the youngest so that has something to do with her competitive nature,” Harrington said.
Harrington said Smailis is naturally talented in swimming and her work ethic helps set her apart from the competition.
“When you give here a lane, give her a workout, she’s going to give you 100 percent,” he said. “It’s really the work ethic that makes her good.”
It was a regimen she learned when her parents, Kav and Kathy, took her to the YMCA to swim when she was 5 or 6 and then for the Highland Hurricanes age group club team.
Smailis gravitated toward basketball and soccer and gave up age group swimming at 13. Then her knee gave out. She said the injuries forced her to give up hoops and soccer.
“It’s weird that it was the knee injury that led me back to swimming,” she said.
Harrington said Smailis excels at any sport, including playing on the golf team for the first time this season.
“She’s a good basketball player and could start on varsity at Highland,” he said. “Her knee injury pushed her back into swimming.”
Now the goal is get back down to Indy for the state meet. Smailis worked hard during the winter break during what Harrington dubbed “paradise” sessions to build strength.
Smailis is focused to improve on last year’s personal best of 57.11 seconds in the 100 back.
“I’m trying to challenge myself as much as I can to see what I can do,” she said.
“We’re pretty confident she’ll make the state cut,” Harrington said. “That’s the ultimate goal, to get down to Indianapolis and give yourself an opportunity.”