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The steps to excellence are often small.
In competitive swimming, they can be miniscule, but Anderson County High School junior Kylie Gehefer is inching her way up the ladder in hopes of becoming one of Kentucky's top performers in the pool.
Gehefer will hit the water Friday in the first round of the Region 3 Swimming Meet, hosted by Russell County High School. In the back of her mind is Anderson County's first berth in the state meet, to be held at the University of Louisville later this month, but she knows it might have to wait until 2014.
A specialist in the breaststroke, Gehefer knows that even with strong times and several wins this year, her quest for the top will be tougher than going against a strong current.
“I want to qualify for the state,” Gehefer says, “but right now there are about six (swimmers in the region) ahead of me.”
With that reality, the initial goal is a bit smaller: get to the regional championship round.
“The goal that I am setting for her this year is to make it into the championship final heat on Saturday at regionals,” says Anderson coach Karla Williams. “She placed ninth in the preliminariess last year at regionals which placed her in the consolation heat of finals.
“In order for her to qualify for the championship final heat she will need to place sixth or lower in the preliminaries.
“A state qualification requires a first or second place finish in each event in the finals. Last year's times to beat (in the 100-yard breaststroke) were 1:07.23, for first place, and 1:07.60 for second place. Kylie is at 1:19 right now, so she has quite a bit of time to drop, depending on what the current year competition is like.”
It is a monumental challenge for the soft-spoken Gehefer, who expertly meshes the confidence and optimism of a champion with the reality of the cruel nature of the clock in a sport where even less than the time it takes to blink an eye can be the difference between moving on or not.
Racers compete against the clock, meaning heat winners are not necessarily guaranteed a spot in the finals. It can be difficult, according to Gehefer.
“You have to really make sure you do your best each race,” Gehefer said recently.
Right now, that best might indicate a run at the state might have to wait unitl 2014. At a recent meet held at Kentucky State University, however, Gehefer was dominant, winning her 100-yard race by almost ¾ of a second. In another race at Asbury University, she destroyed the competition by more than four seconds.
However, in her last race before the regionals, Gehefer turned in her best time of 1:19.68 but finished sixth in the Shelby County Winter Classic, a large event with more than 20 teams involved.
During an interview, it is apparent that Gehefer is confident in her ability to compete and she believes there is much yet to be learned from swimming. “Kylie does so well because she works hard in practice and sets goals for herself,” Williams says. “At swim meets, she will look at the heat sheets and see who she will be swimming against and what their times are. Then she will say 'I’m going to beat this person and this person!' She is very driven.”
Gehefer is driven in a career that started in a pool at Madisonville when Gehefer was 8 and has flourished at Anderson, after she moved to Lawrenceburg as a seventh-grader. The breaststroke became Gehefer's specialty. “It is the stroke that she is strongest in and the most confident in. Kylie is great at all the other strokes, as well, but breaststroke is her main one. Usually, high schoolers will find a few events that they do well in and those events will become their main focus of training,” Williams says.
But Gehefer, who would like the opportunity to swim collegiately, intends to branch out next year. She is already swimming some freestyle events. “I would like to try some other strokes next year,” she says.
Williams is fine with that.
“Kylie has mentioned to me that she might like to try competing in some other strokes,” she says. “Next year we may start practicing some of those. Freestyle and backstroke are the most common; breaststroke is a little more difficult in terms of technique.”
But for now, the focus is just on getting to Saturday for the Michael Phelps fan.
“I am looking forward to it,” Gehefer says. “I definitely want to get to Saturday.”
Anderson swimmers to compete at regional
Several Anderson County swimmers are expected to make strong showings at the Region 3 meet at Russell County High School on Friday and Saturday. The Anderson program has never had a state qualifier since the program began nearly 10 years ago but James Mason, Ben Spear and Casey Moninger have all been putting up strong times in the boys' freestyle events this year. They each could make the Saturday session of the regional meet in the freestyle events.
On the girls' side, Kylie Gehefer is a genuine threat to place in the top five in the 100-yard breaststroke.
The top two finishers from each region move on to the state, making swimming one of the toughest sports in which to advance.
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