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Prep swimming: Period of adjustment

Haw adapted to fit Valencia’s needs; now he’s helping the team adapt after an early league setback

Posted: March 28, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 28, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Valencia senior Stephen Haw has traditionally swam the 200- and 500-yard freestyles, but now he’s swimming in other events to help the Vikings. Valencia senior Stephen Haw has traditionally swam the 200- and 500-yard freestyles, but now he’s swimming in other events to help the Vikings.
Valencia senior Stephen Haw has traditionally swam the 200- and 500-yard freestyles, but now he’s swimming in other events to help the Vikings.
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It was disappointing. It was upsetting.

After all, losing the Foothill League opener to Hart was not what Valencia had planned.

But it could be the best thing for the Vikings’ boys swim team.

“They were pretty angry about it,” says Valencia head coach Mike Bechtholdt. “They think they are a better team than they showed. They are really looking forward to swimming again and getting a second crack it.”

The Vikings entered the season as frontrunner for the league title. Now they must follow the same path that the Indians traversed last year. Hart suffered a dual-meet loss to West Ranch and regrouped in time to win the league meet and subsequently, its 14th straight Foothill championship.

Valencia hopes to do the same.

And senior Stephen Haw could be the key.

“Without him, I don’t think we have a chance,” says teammate Bob Hwang. “He’s one of the fastest swimmers on the team.”

He’s also one of the most versatile.

This year, Haw is swimming outside his traditional events — the 200- and 500-yard freestyles — despite his customary success in both events. He was even a Foothill League record-holding member of Valencia’s 2009 200-freestyle relay team with Hwang, Bryan Kitchener and Stephen Roongsathapaul, which finished the race in 1 minute, 28.94 seconds.

But when Bechtholdt decided to shake things up for last year’s league finals, Haw was willing and more than able.

“Since the 500 was really stacked with Hart, he decided to put me in the 100 (backstroke),” Haw recalls.

He finished third in 56.10 seconds, a CIF-Southern Section Division I consideration time.

“I was actually surprised with how well I did last year with the 100 back,” Haw says. “Since then, I’ve been working on it, and it’s pretty much stuck.”

He’s strong and athletic, with long arms and a smooth stroke. Given his talent, Bechtholdt wasn’t surprised by Haw’s performance, but his secret lies elsewhere.

It’s a matter of the mind, says the senior who wants to study cognitive sciences in college.

“I’ve always been intrigued by the human mind,” Haw says.

School has traditionally come first for Haw, as evidenced by the list of schools he has applied to. The list includes Columbia, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley.

For now, he is using psychology to improve his own times, as well as those of his teammates.

The team captain is a vocal presence at the pool whenever he is not in the water.

His positive encouragement is meant to build his fellow Vikings’ confidence, and set them up for success.

“I think in swimming, mentality is a huge part of our sport,” Haw says. “If you don’t have the right mentality, you don’t feel like you are going to win.”

He stresses the importance of having the right mindset, but also warns about becoming overconfident.

That happy medium is where Haw finds himself.

He knows he can hold his own in the freestyle, but that’s not necessarily where he is needed right now.

He’s had to remain humble enough to try to new strokes.

And when he did, he approached the backstroke methodically, says Jeff Conwell, Haw’s coach at Canyons Aquatic Club.

“He’s not a get-in-and-go kind of guy,” Conwell says. “He’s always trying to analyze and find ways to make things better mentally, as well as physically.”

Conwell praises Haw’s work ethic and maturity.

It’s not always easy for a swimmer to change his or her emphasis, yet Haw has — successfully.

If he continues to develop in the backstroke, the Vikings could erase their league-opening loss to Hart and challenge for the Foothill title.

“Now, we can put him anywhere we need to score some points,” Bechtholdt says. “Now, we just need to figure out where that is for league. Stephen could post wins in a couple of events.”

The philosophy also holds true in the relays. Against the Indians, Haw swam the opening leg of the 200- and 400-freestyle relays. Valencia won both events.

Haw admits he used to think a league championship would be easy to attain.

Time has taught him differently.

What he knows now is what it will take to push the team forward — mentally and physically.

And he’s more motivated than ever.

“It’s my senior year,” Haw says. “I want to go out with a bang.”

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