By Jay Young
Even though high school swimming and diving seasons have already come to an end, local athletes are still having plenty of success in the pool thanks to the Buffalo-based STAR Swimming program.
Above are members of the STAR swim team who will be competing at the Speedos Long Course sectional meet in Buffalo and the Eastern Zone Short Course Age Group Championships in Webster this weekend. From the left are Paige Turcotte, Deidra Osula, Xiane Smith, Sydney Thomas, Bill Osula and Coach Brad Johnson.
STAR Swimming is an organization that runs a year-round development club, recruiting some of the best youth swimmers from around Section 6 to compete on the regional and national stage.
In 2009, former Jamestown Red Raiders assistant coach Brad Johnson was brought on to coach the satellite STAR team based in Jamestown, and has helped develop talented young swimmers through a variety of ages, disciplines, and skill levels.
"These kids just work so hard," Johnson said. "I mean they are here practicing every day."
Among Johnson's talented team of dedicated swimmers is Sydney Thomas of Southwestern.
Now a sophomore, Thomas started to compete with STAR when she was 9 while coming up through the Lady Trojans swim team, and is now taking her talents to national swim meets.
"Sydney was at Junior Nationals, which is basically the second-fastest meet in the country,'' Johnson said. ''You have to be under the age of 18 (to compete) and she did very well. It was her first time going, so it was a new experience, a good learning process for her to go. And that's what we try to do at STAR Swimming is to develop our kids to go to these next-levels.''
Thomas trains for the 100 butterfly, 200 freestyle, 100 and 200 backstroke. Thomas came in third place in the 100 backstroke at the STAR Niagara District Championships Under-15 division earlier this month.
The sophomore also placed seventh in the 200 freestyle and dropped 1.63 seconds off her time in the 100 fly with a 15th-place finish and is one of only four swimmers to earn a spot on STAR's March Junior National Team.
Johnson's other top performer from the district championship meet was Bill Osula, who came away with three first-place finishes and a second-place finish in the Under-12 boys division.
Osula took home top honors in the 100 individual medley(1:04.38), 50 back (28.99), and 50 free (25.42) and earned a trip to the Eastern Zone meet.
The STAR program prides itself on competing against the best youth swimmers from across the country, and travels to meet teams all around the East Coast to find new competition.
"We swam against one of the No. 1 teams in the nation, Carmel. We went to an invite out there to Indianapolis in January. (Carmel) broke national records in like three relay events so we try to strive and find that better competition," Johnson said.
This weekend you can find the STAR team at the Eastern United States Zone Sectional Meet at Erie Community College, which is hosted by STAR Buffalo. The event is open to college swimmers as well as youth athletes and will also include Olympians.
Also competing at the meet for STAR will be Thomas in the Under-15 girls division, and Paige Turcotte and Deidra Osula in the Under-14 girls division, and Xiane Smith in the Under-16 girls division.