In addition to training Lawrence's most dominating high school swimmers, Lawrence Aquahawks coaches Scott Bliss and Mike Soderling also help develop the city's future standouts.
A swimmer they've worked with for a few years who has made tremendous strides this summer is 12-year-old Heather Clark. Both coaches have raved about her improved stamina and speed.
"She's come on like gangbusters this summer," Soderling said earlier this week, mentioning her as a swimmer to keep an eye on this weekend at the Roger Hill Invitational at the Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center.
Sure enough, Clark delivered. She swam seven races in the 11-12 age division, posted five top-five finishes and brought home one gold medal in two days of swimming.
Her first-place finish came in the 200 individual medley, which she led start to finish. She was runner-up in the 50 backstroke and 100 butterfly, placed third in the 200 freestyle and notched a fifth-place slot in the 100 breaststroke.
She also is slated to compete in the open division 200 backstroke today against mostly high school-age opponents. That'll provide her another opportunity to earn a sectionals qualifying time -- a difficult task for someone her age.
"I haven't made sectionals yet, but I'll be going to zones (Central Zone Championships)," Clark said. "I've been improving a lot this summer, and I'm happy about that."
Her coaches are happy too. They said they knew Clark was a special swimmer two years ago when she dominated the 10-and-under division. She held her own in the 11-12 division last year and has continued to show great progress. Now she races in the fastest heat in almost every event.
"She's an older 12-year-old now, so this is her time to shine," said Bliss, who supervises Clark's training with the Aquahawks. "This summer we've really been working on her finishing races. Especially in the sprints. She's really good at taking things out of the blocks and working the first 50 meters. Now we're trying to develop the strong finish, and she's progressing really nicely."
Aiding her progress, Bliss said, is the fact that Clark is in such a competitive age group. Clark and fellow Aquahawks Emma Reaney, Morgan Flannigan, Chloe Portela, Marcy Vickers, Stacey Rudman and Elle Weber are the nucleus of a talented group so driven to improve that they force each other to get better.
Reaney posted three first-place and two second-place finishes, while Flannigan notched four top-five finishes.
"That whole 11-12 age group is full of dynamite swimmers," Bliss said. "It's been a progression as a whole for them. They really work hard together, they push each other and they get faster. That's what's really special about this group."