When Nikki Smith dove into the Seahorse program last year, no one knew she would make such a splash.
“We knew Nikki was a good swimmer from her age group work,” Coach Matt Pavlovich said. “But we didn’t know she would have this level of impact so early in her career.”
Smith stepped in as a freshman and took over the top spot for the 100 butterfly. She also competed and earned a spot on the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams.
The biggest surprise came in her 200 IM.
“I had never really worked on the IM in age group,” Smith said. “But Coach talked to me and said he thought I could do a good job at it. So I said OK, let’s try it.”
Smith became the top IM swimmer for the Seahorses, and took second place in last year’s sectional with a time of 2:06.97, which qualified her for state.
“I was really surprised at how well I did, considering I was so new to the event,” Smith said.
Pavlovich wasn’t surprised at all.
“From a physical talent perspective, it was easy to see that Nikki would do really well in the IM,” he said. “The question was how she would handle it mentally.
“But she is a very coachable kid,” Pavlovich continued. “She takes suggestions, critiques, and criticisms all very well and tries to learn from it. That’s what made the transition work – her attitude.”
Not that Smith forgot about the 100 fly. She took third in the sectional in 57.65, which also took her to state.
But her biggest claim to fame last year was her part in the 200 medley relay. The Seahorses set a school and pool record when they won sectional with a time of 1:44.10. Two weeks later, they took second at state in 1:44.11.
The freshman was teamed with three experienced upperclassmen, but Pavlovich felt it was all reward, no risk.
“Some new swimmers would buckle under the pressure,” Pavlovich said. “But Nikki is very mature for her age. She understood her role, and thrived under the light.”
Smith admitted to having a serious case of the butterflies in last year’s postseason.
“But my teammates were incredibly supportive,” she said. “They helped me to stay calm and stay focused. They had all been here before, and talked to me about their experiences.”
Smith feels more comfortable in her roles this year, and plans to improve her times accordingly.
“I know what to expect in both the fly and the IM,” she said. “I am much more comfortable with knowing my expectations, and what I need to do for the team.
"I hope I can make top 8 at state in the fly, and top 16 in the IM.”
As for the medley relay, Smith has no doubt the Seahorses can repeat.
“Three out of four (swimmers) are back,” Smith said. “We lost Brittany (Gilbert), but we gained Emily (Lagestee). We’re working very hard. I think we can do just as well as we did last year.”