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Derry swim team gets back to basics under coach Kelly

| Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Derry's Austin Buterbaugh competes in the 200-yard Individual Medley against Hempfield on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, at Hempfield High School's swimming pool.

Another year, another chance for Derry boys and girls swim coach Jeff Kelly to teach his swimmers how to become WPIAL participants.

Kelly, who is entering his 21st year of coaching, is going back to fundamentals and stroke mechanics with a young and inexperienced team. But he is keeping the vision of helping individuals cut personal times down the road.

“In the beginning of the season, we go over drills and teaching the strokes and mechanics. As the season progresses you build in speed,” Kelly said. “The faster you have an understanding of stroke mechanics and the muscle memory, the faster we can progress forward to get time drops. If we don't get the basic fundamental stroke down, they will end up with injuries.”

The Trojans return three-quarters of a 200-yard medley relay team that finished ninth at the WPIAL Class AA championship. With the graduation of Sydnee Shrum, the Trojans will look for big things from senior Kealey Smartnick and juniors Taylor Byers and Chelsea Dominick.

Byers also competed in the 200 IM (14th), 200 freestyle relay (10th) and the 100 breaststroke (seventh). Dominick competed in 100 butterfly (29th), 100 backstroke (23rd) and 400 freestyle relay (16th).

Sophomore Morgan Elrick, who finished fourth in the 1-meter dive at WPIALs, also returns.

Aside from Shrum, the Trojans will miss the services of Katherine Curtin, who finished fifth at WPIALs in the 100 freestyle.

“With a green team, you can talk to a lot of them at one time. But it takes more time to do that. The experienced swimmers have to go through it with them again,” Kelly said. “If you talk to the top swimmers, you hear them say that you got to stick with your drills, fundamentals and stroke technique.”

The boys team will not have Tyler O'Barto, who finished sixth in the 100 breaststroke, at its disposal. It will look instead to seniors Andrew Downey and Dustin McCallen. Kelly also will depend on sophomores Evan Grum and Austin Buterbaugh.

At WPIALs last season, McCallen competed in the 200 medley relay (11th), 50 freestyle (13th), 100 freestyle (21st) and 200 freestyle relay (14th).

But even seeing McCallen in the pool this season is nearly miraculous. McCallen suffered a serious arm injury during the summer in a tubing accident, when he broke his arm in five places. However, McCallen is ready to go and Kelly hopes to see him break school records.

“When they decide to work you would think you are watching a group of elite athletes with what they demonstrate,” Kelly said. “They are young so they have to learn they need to work day-in, day-out. The group of kids will improve. They have the potential to take a lot of kids to WPIALs and swim at Trees Pool.”

The chance to help young swimmers mature in the pool and in life is what drives Kelly to keep coaching. But, he hopes he gets out of coaching at the right time.

“When the time comes to leave I hope I have the sense to get out when I should. When the time is right and I lose that passion, I hope I have the sense to get out,” Kelly said.

“The worst you can do is stay too long, and that's when you hurt the kids. High school sports are about the kids and nobody's ego. It's about taking high school kids and building character. I hope the lessons they learn on the pool deck they carry throughout life.”

Andrew John is a freelance writer.

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