The Barracuda Swim Club is on the cusp of competition season. To shave a few seconds off their times, members are spending upward of 18 hours a week perfecting their butterfly and backstrokes at Freedom Hall Pool.
Coaches Chris Coraggio and Will McDavitt are pushing more than 100 swimmers ages 7 through high school to reach their goals before district, regional and sectional meets begin next month. The first round of local competition, the Polar Bear Invitation, is set for Jan. 28 and 29 from 9:30 a.m. to noon at Freedom Hall and will be the first event of its kind for a number of swimmers new to the Barracudas.
“Some kids are shy about competing, but it’s a way to measure their progress,” said Coraggio, who’s been a fulltime coach of the Barracuda Swim Club for nine years.
Though the club is loosely based on competition, its members posses a variety of skill levels. The blue and silver groups consist of beginners trying to ace a legal stroke in the water, while the pre-senior and senior groups are the more dedicated and advanced swimmers working toward specific goals.
“We use the competitive aspect of the sport as a vehicle to let the kids have the opportunity to excel in this sport,” Coraggio said. “Some of them, because of desire or ability, stay at a very novice level, while others, because they have the desire and the ability, are able to excel at a higher level.”
Marlee Jennings, a 16-year-old junior at Science Hill High School, is just one of the Barracudas making a mark in the program. She’s a three-year state competitor in sprinting, with a best time of 25.24 seconds in the 50 freestyle.
“Each year you progress and get faster and faster,” said Marlee, who joined the Barracuda Swim Club in 2005. “When I first started, I struggled in swimming one lap across the pool and now it’s unbelievable just how much we do.”
After finding success in summer swim leagues, Marlee made a year-round commitment to the sport that has her in the water or the weight room by 5 a.m. on most weekdays. The Barracudas’ schedule is made up of a short course beginning in September that leads into competitions in February. Then, a two-week break in late March follows with preparation for the long course season that lasts through the summer months and caps off with more competitions. Many of the fulltime Barracudas are also put on “taper” and given less strenuous workouts throughout the year to allow them time to rest between contests.
Club members like Marlee and fellow top-notch competitor Daniel Chang, practice mornings and afternoons with no complaints.
“It’s a big commitment, especially for my mom driving me up and down, but I think it will pay off,” said 13-year-old Daniel, who attends Sullins Academy in Bristol.
Both young swimmers are looking to qualify for junior nationals while Marlee has her sights set on a collegiate swimming career. Daniel is top-ranked for his 100 breaststroke time of 1:01 that he will continue to challenge during the coming months with the help of individualized workouts from the coaches combined with experiences gained during competitions.
“This is definitely my favorite part of the season,” Marlee said. “It’s about seeing where you are from the beginning of the season and being able to get into it and compete.”
Even the younger swimmers have fun transitioning into competition mode. At a recent practice, the blue and silver Barracudas splashed furiously behind kickboards as they made laps across the pool. Vijay Ananthula, a second-year blue, was enrolled in taekwondo before switching to swimming.
“I get a lot more exercise and I feel like I’ve gotten stronger,” said 9-year-old Vijay.
Some of the Barracudas do take time off to play other sports throughout the year, but Coach Corraggio says their membership isn’t solely based on children who are already athletes before they hit the water.
“We have the ability to reach a large range of kids in our program,” Corragio said. “Sometimes a child joins because they prefer more of an individual type setting, others enjoy the sport and others like it because friends are here. Some have the gift to do well and they want to expand on it.”
Other than picking up a solid, error-free stroke in the individual medley, the Barracuda coaches look to teach their swimmers a lifelong sport. Corragio says those who are strong and confident in the water can continue to swim even when aches and pains of other injuries make it difficult to play sports. Plus, solid swimming skills can be beneficial during water-related emergencies.
“We want to teach them a life skill that they can take a away from the sport,” Corragio said.
The Barracuda Swim Club also has a group of about 40 students in Kingsport, who are coached by Jorge Blasini. New members can join at anytime after taking part in a brief tryout.
For more information about the Barracudas, visit www.barracudaswimclub.org or call Coach Chris Corragio at 833-5595 or email email@example.com.