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Girls swimming: Highland’s Jackie Smailis following in big footsteps

Highland's Jackie M. Smailis poses for portrait before Highalnd girls swimming invite held HighlHigh School Saturday January 5 2013. |

Highland's Jackie M. Smailis poses for a portrait before the of the Highalnd girls swimming invite held at Highland High School on Saturday January 5, 2013. | Charles Mitchell~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 9, 2013 6:23AM



For the past couple seasons the Highland girls swimmers have been in waiting mode.

The Trojans have been waiting for their shot to break out of the middle of the pack in the Northwest Crossroads Conference.

Waiting for another swimmer to have the opportunity to make it out of the ultra-competitive Lake County-based sectional.

Waiting for the pieces to come together in their program.

So, with the way the 2012-13 season has been shaping up, it comes as a pleasant turnaround for Highland swim coach Ryan Harrington.

After last season’s less than savory three-win campaign, the girls have already collected seven dual meet victories heading into this Saturday’s NCC conference meet. And with the increase in productivity has come higher ground in the conference, where they sit in second place behind state-contender Munster.

“Lowell and KV both have got their programs ... we’ve been sweating KV and Lowell for a long time,” Harrington said. “It’s nice to finally, at least for the year, be one up on them. At least for right now, conference is coming and anything can happen at the conference meet.”

Like many programs working to get better, the Trojans are doing so off the efforts of athletes that aren’t afraid to be aggressive. Though she’s in her first complete year of high school swimming, and still an underclassman, sophomore Jackie Smailis is one of the biggest contributors in the push.

“Really she’s just a good kid and that shows that she’s positive and she’s a hard worker academically and in the pool and she’s been a big part of our success and our turnaround,” Harrington said of the swimmer that’s drawing attention for her times in the 100 back.

Smailis, who also swims either of the sprints and is part of both freestyle relays, brings a youthful burst of energy mixed with the passion of coming from a strong family of Highland athletes. Each of her older siblings, especially sister Donna (who parlayed a big career at Highland to swim for Indiana University) made their presence known in multiple sports at the school.

Of course, there are the expected pressures that come from following in relatives’ footsteps.

“It is pressure, it’s a lot of pressure — it’s good pressure and bad pressure,” Smailis said. “It’s good pressure because they try to be coaches to me and help me out.”

But given the younger Smailis’s feats (her season best and second place time of 59.81 at last weekend’s Highland Invite keeps her on pace to chase the school record of 57.5), amid some adversity, she’s clearly holding her own. While many swimmers stay in age group swimming through high school, Jackie backed away when she was 11 to focus on other sports. And soon after getting serious again about swimming in eighth grade, she suffered her third tear to the ACL in her left knee and missed part of the 2011-12 season.

Now, especially with the big finish at the highly touted invite, Smailis could also have a shot at taking home a sectional title in the backstroke (she lost by less than a second at Highland).

That could be the first Trojans’ swimmer to go down to Indianapolis in several years.

“I would probably feel like I would be on top of the world,” she said with a look of hope on her face.



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