Swimming a full-time sport for Seneca Valley's Kozlina
Although the high school swimming season concluded with the recent state meet, Seneca Valley freshman Ali Kozlina is working toward what she hopes is a spectacular sophomore season.
As a freshman, Kozlina qualified for the WPIAL championships in the 50 and 100 freestyle events as well as both girls' relay races. The team races didn't yield state qualifying numbers, but Kozlina qualified in both of her individual events.
“I just try to go out and get my best time, or close to it,” Kozlina said. “There is a lot of competition out there, but I knew if I went out and did my best, I could qualify.”
Both the WPIAL and PIAA championships are pressure-packed events because of the talent in the pool, as well as the sheer number of spectators cheering on their favorite swimmers.
Although she was competing in these hostile venues for the first time, Kozlina remained cool under pressure.
“I try not to let things get to me and just race the swimmer next to me,” Kozlina said. “I really learned that there is a lot more competition out there than just Seneca Valley. There are a lot of fast swimmers.
“It was a good experience, and I learned about how to handle that pressure. You have to be fast.”
Kozlina said she was satisfied with her races on the bigger stages, but she was not ultimately happy with the results.
“You always want to beat your best time,” she said.
In an effort to beat that best time, Kozlina said during the club season, which is going on now, she will be working on her walls and breathing techniques, so she is not slowing herself down during the race. She also wants to get out of the blocks faster.
“Breathing too much causes you to lose seconds,” Kozlina said. “I want to work on diving in, so I can be at my fastest right away, something I was not in the 50 free.”
Kozlina has been swimming for a long time. Her parents are accomplished swimming coaches and, ironically, the former coaches of her coach at Seneca Valley, Brian Blackwell.
So, it is little surprise she is a rising star.
“Ali has stepped up this year,” Blackwell said. “She takes direction so well, and is one of the most humble kids. She is in tune with herself and gets along great with the other swimmers.”
Kozlina said Blackwell really pushes her to work on perfecting her technique, something she doesn't get the chance to do during the club season.
“I lift with (Blackwell) and work on my technique … we have a lot to do,” she said.
With the club season a year-round thing, Kozlina is still in the pool about 12 hours a week. In addition to her swimming at Seneca Valley, she swims for the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill. The venue is a 40-minute drive, but is well worth it, according to the freshman.
“Club is similar to the high school season, but it has bigger meets,” Kozlina said. “We practice every night and put in about two hours on Sunday morning.”
Although her best meets are still ahead of her, Kozlina said that qualifying for the club sectionals and finishing as a finalist in the 50 and 100 freestyle events are her career highlights thus far. Bigger aspirations lie ahead.
Jerry Clark is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.