In their final year of high school swimming, Ashley Harding and Katelyn Brolin are making it count. The two, along with Rachell Carnell and Ellie Pickford, make up Gilroy High’s 200-yard freestyle and medley relay teams that are close to hitting Central Coast Section meet-qualifying times.
Harding has goals to qualify for CCS in the 50 free and 100 breast stroke, while Brolin is aiming to qualify in the 100 backstroke. Whatever happens, the two seniors are having the most fun they’ve ever had in the pool.
“I’m really pushing myself in practice and doing a lot better than I was at the end of last season,” Brolin said.
“It’s been a super good season so far,” Harding said. “I’m doing better than I was at this point last season. I know my strokes are better, I have experience and I’m comfortable in the water. There are a lot of little different things I learned last year in terms of diving into the pool and my turn that have helped me to speed up a lot.”
Brolin has a personal-best time of 1 minute, 8 seconds in the backstroke, and she credits her time in the weight room and positive attitude as the keys to her success this season,
“I’ve been doing a lot of weight training in the morning, and I think overall my mindset is better,” she said. “I’m more positive and dedicated to the sport—I don’t dread it like I did last year. It’s my last year of swimming, and I want to do my best.”
The busyness and pressures of her junior year made swimming a chore for Brolin, who has rediscovered her love for the sport this season. Brolin is hoping for more dramatics like last season, when the 200 free relay team qualified for CCS in its final chance to do so—in the Monterey Bay League Championships.
“A lot of people didn’t think we could do it because we had to drop 5 seconds to hit the cutoff time,” Brolin said. “It was a good feeling for everyone to be pumped in our league finals.”
Brolin had two outstanding seasons as a junior and senior playing on the water polo team, averaging three goals per game while earning All-MBL First Team honors last season. Brolin only started playing water polo during her junior year, and she wishes she started the sport as a freshman.
Harding has similar sentiments to Brolin when it comes to swimming, having wished she tried out for the team in her freshman year. Harding has made up for lost time in a big way, as she qualified for the 2017 CCS Meet in the 50 free in a personal-best 25.58 seconds in the MBL Championships. It was the breakthrough Harding was waiting for, and an emotional one as she did it in front of family and friends.
“I looked up to see my time, slapped the water and screamed with joy,” she said. “I saw 25.58 and was so proud. I could see my family cheering and couldn’t be happier. I’m trying to remake that moment again this year.”
It will take another Herculean effort for Harding to match or surpass her personal-best, but she’s confident of peaking at the perfect time. Harding credits Gilroy coach Doug Pickford for not only getting the swimmers in supreme condition, but helping them with their technique.
“Coach is known for his conditioning drills, but I can go to him with questions and he helps me a lot,” said Harding, who also has a goal to qualify for CCS in the 100 breast stroke. “He’s great at helping us taper so our body is in prime condition to do well in the most important races. Coach Doug also makes swimming a fun experience for everyone.”
Even though Harding grew up swimming countless hours in her backyard, she never thought about doing it competitively until high school. Interestingly enough, Harding took up water polo in her sophomore season, a year before she started competing with the swim squad.
After Harding’s initial season in water polo, she decided to do swimming to help her with conditioning for water polo. After trying numerous sports and activities growing up, Harding found her calling in the pool.
“I’m not really good at anything on land, but being in the water works for me,” Harding said.
It works for Brolin, too.