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Stroke of success

Nazareth Academy senior swimmer Lauren Hirst, shown training on March 6 at Lower Moreland High School, will compete in the PIAA state swimming championships from March 13 to 16 at Bucknell University.

By Ed Morrone

Wire Sports Editor

When Bensalem’s Lauren Hirst enters the pool at Bucknell University during the PIAA state swimming championships from March 13 to 16, her advice to herself will be simple: Stop thinking so much.

Hirst should have no problem getting ready for states, as she’s been there before. The senior swimmer from Nazareth Academy High School will be participating in her third go-round in the tournament, and is hoping to atone for two less-than-stellar showings her sophomore and junior years.

“I think the big thing for me really has just been not thinking about it,” Hirst said the week before she was set to leave for Bucknell. “I’m not that nervous. Over-thinking will kill you in swimming, so I’m focusing on having fun and enjoying it, because it’s my last one.”

Hirst’s main event will be the 200m freestyle; she swam it the last two years at states (placing 19th a year ago), and during her second-place finish in last Thursday’s District One Class AA championship. Swimmers can only qualify for states if they win their event; however, Shannon Harrington, the 200 free winner — and Hirst’s classmate and teammate at Nazareth — will be swimming in a national tournament in Orlando during states.

Hirst, with a time of 1:57.30, will gladly take her teammate’s place.

“We knew in the beginning of the season that Shannon wouldn’t be swimming in states, so I trained much harder during the year to swim stronger at districts,” Hirst said. “Shannon always has impressive times and is so amazing in the pool that she’s motivated me to step up my game. We push each other.

“But I don’t think that her going to Florida makes me lucky to be going to states,” she added. “It wasn’t luck … I worked so hard to earn the time I did.”

Hirst said she’s a completely different swimmer from the one who stood on the deck at states the last two years.

“Sophomore year I had no idea what to expect … I just went in blind,” she recalled. “Last year I had a chip on my shoulder, but I had done bad at districts and that kind of carried over. Now that I have that experience, I’m going in more confident. Why wouldn’t you want to do your best in your last year?”

Hirst expects the state meet to be the fiercest swimming competition she’ll see the rest of her life. Though she said she’d like to keep swimming in college, it will most likely be at the club level.

She has been accepted to the University of Pittsburgh and had strongly been considering enrolling there, until her acceptance letter from the University of Connecticut arrived in the mail.

“I’ve swam since I was 4 years old, so 14 years of swimming,” she said. “I’ve always swam, and I think it’s something I’ll continue in college, but mainly for myself. I’ve done it my whole life, so it offers a comfort zone for me, especially knowing I’ll probably be far away from home. It helps me stay in shape, and if I didn’t have anything to do with my time I’d go insane.

“But at the same time, college is such a larger scale, and I want to be more involved in the going-to-school and meeting-new-people aspects.”

Hirst is excited that she’s earned another shot at states, and she hopes the third time is a charm. One chapter of her life will soon give way to the next one, but not before she offers her best shot in the pool one more time as a Nazareth Academy swimmer.

After all, pushing herself to the limit is the least she can do for a sport that has given her so much.

“It’s such a disciplined sport, one that you have to practice all year round,” she said. “Your body has muscle memory, so all the work you’ve put in the past six months or so, that’s going to show up at the end of your season. If you want to do well in the sport, you have to train day in and day out and push yourself for several hours a day. Mentally, you get to the point where you tell yourself, ‘I can do this. I can do this.’ That’s the biggest obstacle, much more than the physical aspect.”

Well, almost the biggest obstacle.

“Jumping in the pool … that’s actually the worst part,” she said with a laugh. “Once I get myself all cold and wet and get myself moving, everything will be fine.”

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