For the past several years, all Notre Dame swim coach Henry DeSandre had to do was pencil Matt Lequang’s name into the 200 and 500 freestyle events and feel pretty secure about a first-place outcome.
Now that Lequang has moved up Route 206 to Rider, one would think the Irish might be concerned about losing such a stud.
Enter Andrew Kite.
The Hamilton product quietly excelled in Lequang’s shadow last year. While the senior was winning the 200 and 500 at the Mercer County Championship meet, Kite was busy taking fifth in each event.
He returns for his junior year looking to be even better, and DeSandre feels the same way.
“I haven’t really leaned hard with Kite as far as looking at where we want to go yet,” DeSandre said in early December. “I’m kind of looking to see. I think he’s gonna be my go-to guy to maybe step up and take the role that Lequang had. He’s got a lot more growth to do, he’s doing a little bit of strength training, that’s helped him immensely, and he’s young.”
Andrew is the third Kite to swim for ND, following in the footsteps of sisters Elizabeth and Juliana.
“They always claim to be coach D’s favorite and they’ll fight over that,” Kite said. “I just say I’m his favorite male Kite.”
Kidding aside, Kite was keen on swimming at Notre Dame because “I knew that coach D was a very exceptional coach, because of how well he did taking my sisters, who had never swam competitively before, and turning them into really good, competitive swimmers. I knew how he was as a coach.”
Unlike his siblings, Kite came to high school with club experience. He always loved swimming in the backyard pool and started lessons at the Hamilton YMCA at age 4. Competitively, he focused on soccer and basketball until sixth grade, when his mom suggested swimming since Juliana and Elizabeth were having such good experiences with the sport.
Kite started with the Hopewell Barracudas of the Princeton Area Swimming & Diving Association. He moved to the Robert Wood Johnson Hammerheads, who competed in a fitness and wellness league, and then took on hard-core club training with Pennington Aquatics.
“They provided me with really good technique and training,” Kite said.
He switched to the Eastern Express entering his freshman year, and came to Notre Dame as a backstroker and distance man.
“The two events we groomed him for that year were the 500 and backstroke,” DeSandre said. “He’s got a good backstroke in him and can give us a good IM (individual medley) if we need it.”
The problem, however, is the backstroke takes place two events after the 500, giving Kite little rest in between.
“We realized it was a hard turnaround for me to do for every single meet,” Kite said. “So he said going into sophomore year, ‘Do you want to try to 200 freestyle?’ and I said, ‘That’s fine, I’ll try it.’ I did it, he was happy with my swim, and I was as well, so that became one of my routine events along with the 500.”
It wasn’t quite that simple, however. Swimming the 200 and 500 is akin to running the 400 and 1,600 in track. In one you go all out, all the time, where in the other, you can pace yourself.
“The 200, you either like it or you hate it with a passion,” DeSandre said. “He may hate it, but he doesn’t admit it.”
Kite doesn’t dislike it, but certainly finds it to be a challenge. A major challenge, in fact.
“In my personal opinion, the 200 is the hardest event,” he said. “It’s a 100 percent sprint the entire time. There’s no chance to pace yourself and get into a rhythm like you can in the 500.
“I like it though. It is a nice event. Sprinting isn’t my favorite thing to do in swimming but it’s still a race I enjoy. I don’t hate it. I do love it. I like the 500 more because it allows me to get into a rhythm and pace myself throughout.”
Not to mention, he is pretty much built for the event.
“Andrew likes distance, he likes to race,” DeSandre said. “There’s no question he’s got distance all in him. He likes the event. The five is definitely his event.
“He’s grown into both of them and doesn’t realize what level he can reach in those two events. It’s a learning curve, a learning ability. It’s confidence. He’s just embracing it on a daily basis. I’ve seen his repeats in practice, we’re pretty excited about what he possibly can accomplish. It’s early in the season, we’re gonna work our way toward the end of January, that’s when our season really starts.”
Kite entered the season with a personal best of 5:04 in the 500 and 1:54 in the 200. His goal is to obviously lower those times as he hopes to get under five minutes in the 500 and around 1:50 in the freestyle. He is hoping to get higher on the MCT podium after his strong showing last year.
“I was surprised at how I did, because I was seeded sixth going into the A finals,” Kite said. “I was nervous going into it. My freshman year experience at counties I dropped a tiny bit of time but it wasn’t much, so I was kind of expecting the same type of thing last year. We had a taper practice with coach D the week leading into counties, which really helped me feel warmed up and ready to race. I think that helped me drop the amount of time I did.”
With one-plus year remaining at Notre Dame, Kite is already hoping to become the first of his family to swim at the next level. Although his sisters were not college swimmers, they still provide their little brother with guidance.
“Elizabeth did swim the 200 and 50 free, she helps me mentally prepare for the race and how to go about it,” Kite said. “Juliana helped me prepare freshman year because her event was the 100 backstroke. That helped me also mentally prepare.”
Of course, there is also some good-natured abuse along with the help.
“They like to ride him when they see him, they tease him a little bit,” DeSandre said. “But they’re really proud of him. It’s a great family.”
Even if there is a raging debate over who is the coach’s favorite Kite.