Girls swimming: Munster’s Nikki Smith named P-T Swimmer of the Year
By Josh Lichtenfeld Post-Tribune correspondent March 22, 2013 9:56PM
Munster sophomore Nikki Smith is the Post-Tribune girls Swimmer of the Year. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 24, 2013 6:15AM
MUNSTER — There’s a high level of focus in the fiercest of competitors. And complacency isn’t an option for the athletes that continue to elevate their game.
Munster sophomore Nikki Smith has already proven to be productive in one of the state’s strongest programs. And even after another big showing for the 2012-13 season — including her part in Munster’s improvement from ninth place at state meet in 2012, to eighth at this year’s finals — Smith is quick to find areas of her skill set to tweak.
“I’m happy with where I’m at,” she said. “(But), I’m still not satisfied. There’s always something you can work on.”
A pretty constructive view, when you consider her recent progress.
Following the graduation loss of Brittany Gilbert, and given the continued rise in talent throughout the region, it took an extra push from Smith and the Seahorses to finish the season strong. Munster retooled two times before the finals, after falling just short of the crown at the Highland Invite and after handily losing its final dual of the season, to Chesterton, before the state meet.
For her part down the stretch — setting two school records, and grabbing three top-eight medals at state — the 100 butterfly and 200 IM competitor is the 2013 Post-Tribune Girls Swimmer of the Year.
Before coming narrowly beating Lake Central, 480-478, as a first-year sectional host at the new Munster Natatorium, Smith said the close 388-378 runner-up loss to the Indians (after entering as the reigning champions) at Highland was a wake-up call.
“I think it was kind of like a news flash, telling us how close to us they really were,” she said after breaking former Munster coach and Iowa standout Julie Feingold’s school record with a winning 200 IM time of 2:04.14 at the sectional final and continuing on in the event to take second and break Gilbert’s record in 100 fly, going 55.21.
Munster swim coach Matt Pavlovich says that to go along with her work ethic, Smith, who started swimming in the Munster age group program at 8, is a flexible member of the squad.
“She can swim every event in the high school lineup, but obviously those two (the fly and the IM) are her go-to events,” he said. “She’s extremely versatile, but she trains. She likes to train, likes to work hard.”
Along with going fifth at state in the fly (55.89) and taking ninth in the IM (2:05.40), Smith also earned medals anchoring both the 200 (sixth, with a time of 1:37.02) and 400 (eighth, 3:34.93) free relay team finishes at the IU Natatorium on the campus of IUPUI.
To Smith, junior teammate Mary Beth Blocher, who also contributed to those relays and had a fifth-place finish at state (tying for that spot in the 50 free), has been a strong motivation. The duo acted as a one-two punch in the Seahorses’ lineup.
“Along with being a teammate, she’s one of my best friends,” Smith said. “We definitely inspire each other.”
What also inspires Smith is her agenda to improve for next season. After all, that focus hasn’t waned.
“At the beginning of the year, set goals,” she says of her method. “Now, that those goals are gone, the only thing I can do is make harder goals.”