In fact, Joanne Elliott finds it humorous that her daughter is a standout sophomore for Steinert’s swim team; probably because her competitive swimming debut was also her finale.
“My mom swam for, like, one time,” Elliott said with a wide grin. “She started at age 10 at the YMCA. Her first swim meet she jumped in the water and started to drown. So they had to pull her out with that pole. She’s always laughing because she thinks it’s so ironic that I’m a swimmer now. She jumped in, drowned and quit immediately afterward.”
Joanne kept that little secret tucked away during Alaina’s formative years in the pool.
“She didn’t tell me when I was just starting out and learning all the strokes,” Elliott said. “She waited till I wanted to do it all year.”
After receiving mom’s fair warning of the pool perils, Elliott took the plunge anyway.
“I absolutely love it,” she said.
And it’s mainly due to Joanne.
Elliott grew up with a pool in her backyard and, at age 8, her friend encouraged her to join a competitive swim team. Putting her past experience aside, Joanne told her daughter to go for it.
“My mom was the one encouraging me to swim competitively,” she said. “I was in the pool all summer, every single day, doing the doggie paddle or whatever. She was like, ‘Elaina, why wouldn’t you? This is an awesome opportunity.’ I said ‘OK, I guess you’re right.’ The moment I got in the pool (for a competitive race), I was like ‘Oh my God, this is awesome,’ and I never stopped.”
Her first experience was with the Country Pool Swim Club. Asked where that was located, Elliott shrugged and said, “in the country.”
It’s in the bucolic land of Chesterfield, to be exact. Once Elliott began to compete, the desire grew more each year until she finally gave up her previous main sport.
“I did soccer for a really long time and could only do swimming in the summer,” she said. “When I realized I was pretty good at swimming and not too good at soccer, I was like, ‘OK, one’s gotta give. I’m not gonna be a professional soccer player.’ So I stuck with swimming. It was a really good choice, I loved it.”
“It’s so special,” Elliott said. “It’s stress relieving. I love it. It’s just a good sport.”
And she became good at it. After swimming for a team at the Robert Wood Johnson pool, Elliott made the jump to big-time club swimming three years ago and joined the Pennington Stingrays. That not only prepared her well for high school competition, but made her appreciate swimming at Steinert due to its tight-knit atmosphere.
“It’s so much different than USA swimming,” she said. “This is actually a team. For USA, it’s a team, but it’s all about your individual race. This is like a whole family. It’s so nice, it’s so different. I walked in the first day and everyone was like, ‘Oh my God. Alaina, how are you!’ I was like ‘Woah, hi!’ So yeah, I really like it.”
Elliott had a strong freshman campaign for Steinert, swimming the fly, IM and relays. She swam a 1:04 in the fly last year and is gunning for the school record of 1:00 before she graduates. As a bonus last season, Elliott re-discovered her true passion for the sport.
“I think I did pretty well, just because of how friendly everybody is,” Elliott said. “I felt so comfortable here I got my best (butterfly) times, which is when I started to try to break the record. I feel swimming here really motivated me. I love to swim, but over time it’s so mechanical and so serious that I forgot what it was like to have fun. And this place really reminded me of why I got into it. It’s just so much fun, I love it, I look forward to it.”
Steinert coach Emily Summers could tell just how much she looked forward to it this year.
“She came in and said, ‘I want to do the hundred fly and I want to get my best time,’” the coach said. “She said to put her in the one hundred fly every single week, she wants to beat the record. She has the will and determination to do it.”
The veteran coach also saw a change in personality this year that should help Elliott.
“Her mindset is different,” Summers said. “I think she has found her niche. I love seeing her come to practice with a smile on her face. She’s more bubbly and more outgoing and I think she’s really excelling on deck and in the water.”
Elliott agreed, saying “I’ve been training with the Stingrays to try and beat the fly record for a couple months now, trying to get ready for it. I guess I came back a little more confident.”
Elliott can also swim the 200 free and 100 back, giving Summers some flexibility when it comes to dual meets.
“I can really put her anywhere,” the coach said. “She’s a very versatile swimmer.”
A very versatile swimmer who enjoys using that versatility.
“My main event is fly, I do that every time; and my second favorite is probably the IM (individual medley),” Elliott said. “It’s everything wrapped all together. It wakes up your mind every time you go to a different stroke.”
Elliott and senior Hannah Devine returned as the Spartans top two swimmers. Devine is a major force in the relays and also provides necessary leadership for a young squad.
“Hannah really came in ready to go,” Summers said. “She’s ready to drop some time, and she’s a big help for getting the relay team ready for the race and helping them if they need that guidance. In her four years, she’s come from that quiet freshman to being that positive role model for the freshman class.”
Not to mention, at least one sophomore.
“Oh my God, she’s helped me so much,” Elliott said. “She’s like the best person, ever. She’s so kind. If I need help, if I forget something, she’s always there to tell me what to do.”
Those lapses don’t occur often, as Elliott has had a laser sharp focus in practice and meets.
“She really has a will to do better,” Summers said. “Whenever we do starts or turns she always says, ‘Coach, can you look at my flip turn, can you look at my technique? Tell me where I’m going. Tell me what I need to do.’ That desire of wanting to improve in practice is going to take her far.”
The coach feels Elliott has a chance of mounting the Mercer County Championship podium this year if she continues to work hard. But the swimmer would rather just focus on times and let the results speak for themselves.
“I set goals for myself but they’re mini-goals,” Elliott said. “I want to drop half a second here, half a second there. If I do good in events, that’s great. I don’t want to get my hopes up and then not go (to states). I just do the tiny goals, and if something bigger comes along, it’s like ‘OK, cool!’”