It takes time and talent to build a swimming program.
Tenacity, too, says sophomore Kacie Johnson of Southside.
And a team attitude, adds junior Macie Johnson.
The sisters are doing their part in helping build the Rebels.
Macie holds or shares five school records as a sprinter.
Kacie specializes in medley events and has her name on the board with two relay teams.
The Johnson aren’t twins, but at just 18 months apart they are often mistaken for being so. It didn’t help, Macie jokes, that they often were dressed alike as youngsters.
They share other attributes besides being strong swimmers: Both are honor students and already on an educational track toward becoming nurses. They both know how to have fun at the right times.
The Johnsons are helping the Rebels girls team rise in and out of the water at a school that doesn’t have a large population of competitive swimmers.
“Both bring leadership and hard work,” says coach Ty Gill.
Macie is the more natural swimmer and Kacie is the workhorse who is willing to try any new stroke, he said.
Macie is the more vocal leader. She stood up on the bus during last year’s sectional to tell her teammates: “This is the closest team I’ve been on. This is family,” Gill says.
Kacie is the quiet leader who stands out for the examples she sets. For example, she’ll show up at practice wearing a T-shirt under her swimsuit. That creates a drag effect and forces her muscles to work harder. “I don’t need to ask her to do that. She does it on her own. She does the extras,” Gill says.
Rebels teammates Taylor Fabian (four times) and Megan Fields also have their names in large letters on the record board that stands high above the east end of the pool — as testament to a program that has talent.
The four serve as the core of the girls team.
Personal bests are important when team numbers are growing, but still low compared to other perennially-strong teams in the area, such as Central and Yorktown.
The Rebels’ girls finish at the top in many of their individual events, but have a hard time winning meets because of depth. “It’s the second and thirds that we struggle with,” Gill says.
He started leading the program four years ago with just eight girls and five boys. Those numbers have doubled for each team. “It’s not about the blue ribbons here,” Gill says. “We focus more on personal bests.”
In that realm, the team holds a small ceremony at practices the day after personal-best performances are set in meets.
Macie says the Rebels “could really compete if we had a bigger team,” but is comfortable to constantly strive to better her best times. “You have to want to be good,” she says. “I am always racing my own time.”
She and her sister both took up swimming in the sixth grade. “We’re the first two from the family who do it,” Macie says.
“I just wanted to try new things. I just had a knack for it.”
Her sister’s involvement pulled Kacie into the demanding sport. She also likes the individual aspect of constantly trying to beat best times, yet being part of a team is important. “I think this is something you have to love. It’s so hard at times,” she says. “But, it’s so worthwhile.”
The hard work paid off last season when the Rebels had more girls than ever reach the finals at the sectional.
The Rebels hope to show they’ve improved even more during the sectional competition that starts on Thursday at Jay County. “I am hoping we can advance somebody out of the sectional,” Gill says. “It’s so tough to do, but we are getting there.”