When Nikki Smith swam the 500 free in a dual meet with Lake Central two weeks ago, she had no idea it would be a record-setting night.
“Honestly, I wasn’t really feeling too good when I was swimming it,” said Smith, a junior standout.
Smith finished the event in 4:57.85, eclipsing the school record held by Pam Selby-Harmon for 32 years by .06 seconds.
“I was actually surprised when I touched the wall and saw it,” she said. “We had a good idea that it was a record, but we weren’t sure. We just had to confirm it.”
Smith’s outstanding time in the 500 presented her and coach Matt Pavlovich with a dilemma. Smith has been swimming the 200 IM and 100 fly for two seasons and placed ninth in the state in the 200 IM and fifth in the 100 fly last season.
Should she keep swimming the 200 IM at sectional or enter the 500 free instead? Smith and her coach decided to enter her in the 500 free, the 100 fly and two relays.
“It’s a tough decision because she’s the school record-holder in the 200 IM,” Pavlovich said. “The 4:57 is kind of hard to ignore. It will be a little bit of a change. The 200 IM is such a loaded event downstate.”
Smith hated to give up the 200 IM but is pumped for the possibilities in swimming the 500 free.
“We definitely checked out and looked at all the different factors,” she said. “We thought the best decision for me would be the 500 free instead of the IM.”
The winning time in last year’s state meet was 4:53, and only three of the top three finishers were underclassmen, including Lake Central Traci Muszalski. Five of the top eight finishers in the 200 IM will likely return.
“She’s going to swim the 100 fly and the 500 free. Those two events are close together, but she’s a tough kid,” Pavlovich said.
He admits it’s a bit of a gamble, but one worth taking for Smith to become a state champion.
“You never know what people will do,” he said. “Then there’s always the chance that other teams are thinking the same thing.”
Smith believes her training will make for a smooth transition.
“The biggest change is you mindset, and I feel I have a pretty good grasp on that,” she said. “I think that’s the hardest part.”
The quest begins in tonight’s Crown Point Sectional preliminaries.
“We’re just going to go out and give it our all,” Smith said.