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Senior Sam Herscovitz has a chance to break two school records, both the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke

by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Mary Rotter swims the backstroke during the Indians' home meet on Jan. 21. Scappoose will compete in the Cowapa League championships in Astoria on Feb. 14 and 15.Most athletes spend years dedicating themselves to their sport, pushing their bodies to the limit in order to succeed. That's been the story for much of the swim program's history at Scappoose High School. That is, at least, until Sam Herscovitz stepped into the butterfly in the early part of this swim season.

It wasn't something he planned on, and certainly not something he expected, but due to low numbers, Herscovitz found himself swimming the butterfly leg of the 200 medley relay.

“We've been short guys the whole season, and so it was kind of a filler for the medley and then I ended up doing pretty good in the relay format,” said Herscovitz. “One day (Coach David Richmond) decided to put me in the actual event, the 100 butterfly, and I've been doing it ever since.”

Of all the events for an athlete to jump into and dominate, the butterfly wouldn't be the obvious choice. Unlike freestyle, where swimmers simply swim hand-over-hand, the butterfly requires swimmers to fling both arms out of the water at once, kicking with both feet together and lunging forward. Every few strokes, the swimmer lifts their head and chest from the water to breath, making for the iconic photo moments that has made the butterfly one of the more gripping swimming events.

The stroke is more than just a technical challenge, it's a physically demanding event as well, physically demanding enough that many athletes won't swim the butterfly until later in the season when they've had time to round into shape. The hardest part, though, has nothing to do with the body itself.

“We train so hard on the legs and lower body that really, it's more of a mental block for most kids,” said Richmond. “Really, it's about undulation, that wave motion moving through the water, so that when you're kicking forward, you're getting help from the water. Your lungs are compressing, pushing you upward and propelling you forward.”

All those elements combine to make it a formidable event, and as Herscovitz is only in his second full year as a swimmer it's even more surprising to see how well he's taken to the event. Since starting to race the 100 butterfly close to six weeks ago, he's improved enough to be breathing down a Scappoose school record. Now, it's become his favorite event.

“He was reluctant to swim it at first,” said Richmond. “He wasn't so sure about it, and when I put him in he was a little bit nervous, but after that first time he came to me and said 'put me back in it.'”

Breaking the school record, which is just a half-second away for Herscovitz, has now become a main goal as his senior swim season begins to wind down, and though he originally got into the sport for its conditioning aspects, he has set a goal of breaking the butterfly and backstroke records, and qualifying for the state championships.

“I swam for the first time four weeks ago, and every week I've been dropping a second in it,” he said before practice on Feb. 5. “If I stay consistent, I only have half a second left, so hopefully I can get that and break it.”

With the Cowapa League championships pushed back to Feb. 14 and 15 in Astoria, the team has had an extra week to prepare, and for Richmond, things couldn't be better.

“Championship time is my favorite time of the season. I tell the kids that it's better than Christmas,” he said with a smile. “Now is the part where you see that the hard work has paid off because we're resting our bodies and we're hoping to peak in the next two weeks. That's the most exciting thing. Become better to win close races, make finals, make top six. That's what I would say is a successful year, to make the top six.”

The championships will begin at 1 p.m. at the Astoria Aquatic Center. Results and photos can be found online at www.spotlightnews.net, or in next week's print edition.

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