MUNSTER | Brittany Gilbert sat on a bench next to the pool at Wilbur Wright Middle School in Munster, watching her teammates stretch in preparation for that day's practice.
This season's Munster squad will feature several new faces and bodies in the pool, either from the junior varsity team or a large squad of freshmen. The Seahorses lost talented state qualifiers in Nina Damjanovich, Sarah Sikora and Stacey Wierman to graduation, but rebuild is not a word you would find in the Munster swimming dictionary.
Reload is more appropriate, and at the forefront of that effort will be Gilbert, who is coming off the strongest swimming season of her high school career. Most notably, Gilbert helped Munster's 200-yard medley relay team finish second at state (1 minute, 45.49 seconds) and individually, finished fourth in the 100 backstroke, her 56.01 a personal best. The Mustangs finished third at state with 166 points.
It was simply a matter of gaining some confidence in herself.
"I didn't really think I could possibly do that," Gilbert said of her performance at state last season. "It was awesome, and it was totally unexpected. I went in just thinking 'whatever happens, happens.' I didn't really have any set goals. Getting fourth (in the 100 back) was crazy for me."
While Gilbert didn't set any goals in stone for herself during the state meet, she aspires to break 55 seconds in the backstroke and win an individual state title this season. With college swim coaches starting to take notice, there is some added pressure for Gilbert.
"I don't want to over-think it," Gilbert said, while admitting she feels confident about this season. "I'm hoping for better, but I don't want to get too excited and not do well."
The Seahorses will also be led by a new coach, as it was made official Tuesday that former Seahorse and University of Iowa swimmer Julie Feingold will take the reins from Terry Specyal, who will be taking a 16-month helicopter piloting course in Alabama.
Feingold knows the transition to coaching won't be too difficult with experienced swimmers like Gilbert, Jillian Homans and Elaine Pitsas around. Feingold is expecting Gilbert to be one of the team's biggest motivational leaders this season.
"She sets a really good example and pushes the other girls to be better," Feingold said. "She reminds me a lot of some of the best people I trained with in college and high school. She works as hard as she possibly can every single day, and I really admire that."