As a freshman, Lake Central's Holly Spears made a big splash in the sectionals.
She took third in the 50 free (24.56) and second in the 100 free (53.88) -- lofty results for a newcomer. Plans and goals were big for the future.
Fast forward to last year. Spears came into the sectionals with the best prelim times in both events, and was poised to add her name to the long list of Lake Central champions.
Then came the DQ.
Spears was disqualified in the 100 freestyle for coming off the blocks too early, according to Coach Todd Smolinski.
“The officials said she came off before the gun,” Smolinski said. “It’s the officials’ call, and there wasn’t anything any of us could do about it. It was very unfortunate.”
Spears believed she heard the gun and then moved, but the results were already in.
“I was really disappointed when I learned I was disqualified,” she said. “It’s hard to put into words. You work all year for the moment.”
Indians teammates and coaches rallied around Spears and provided tremendous support, according to the sophomore.
“My team was great,” Spears said. “I cost the team a lot of points, but they were all concerned about me. The coaches were as supportive as possible. They all helped me realize we could turn this into a positive.”
Spears has used the DQ as a motivational tool.
“In the offseason, I did a lot of work on turns and coming off the blocks,” she said. “I focused on improving in both of those areas. I wanted to make sure my movements were smooth and orchestrated.”
Spears' attitude about the disqualification has been a good experience for all in the program.
“Holly really went about it the right way,” Smolinski said. “She realized she made a mistake and the only way out of it was hard work. She sent a great message to the team. She never hung her head or felt sorry for herself.
"Some kids would have had a very different reaction, not necessarily a good one. But Holly has been exemplary.”
This Saturday’s Highland Invite marks the unofficial beginning of the postseason for most of the region’s programs. Spears is ready for the show to begin.
“The competition level at the invite is top-notch,” she said. “It gives you a good feel for the sectional atmosphere a couple of weeks ahead of time. Our team always gears up to do well and use it as a push for the postseason.”
The Indians are showing more depth than in the past two seasons.
“We have been working very hard as a team to do well collectively,” Spears said. “We all want to do well as individuals, but we all realize our best bet to go downstate and do well is as a team.
"We’ve put a lot of work into our relays.”
Smolinski likes the way the Indians are shaping up for a postseason run.
“We did pretty good last year,” he said, “and we have improved on that this season. I think we have a good team atmosphere and attitude, and that helps a lot when the pressure goes up.”