Sapienza's victory lap
Being a swimmer in southern Oregon isn't exactly an easy lifestyle.
Aquatic centers found in most regions of the state, especially the high-end facilities, simply aren't an option here, where the largest facility is the Southern Oregon University pool in Ashland.
Then there's the reality that the swimming community — albeit a tight-knit one — certainly lacks in overall numbers and general appreciation level in comparison to sports like soccer, basketball, football and the like.
With all that still barely scratching the surface on the rigorous life of a southern Oregon-based swimmer, Cascade Christian senior Breanna Sapienza has still managed to surface as one of the elite swimmers in state history.
The accomplishment is one Sapienza takes great pride in as she approaches her fourth and final Class 4A/3A/2A/1A state championships, set Friday and Saturday at the Mt. Hood Community College aquatic center in Gresham.
Sapienza owns six individual state titles — the most possible considering even a single teammate has been few and far between during her run — and will be in search of two more this weekend.
"It's a great accomplishment already and I'm happy to support my school," says the 18-year-old standout. "I want people to see that someone can come out of Medford, Ore., and Cascade Christian with 300 kids and still do amazing in a sport like swimming."
Sapienza will attempt to become a four-time state champion in the 100-yard butterfly, where she set the 4A/3A/2A/1A state meet record at 54.63 seconds in 2012, as well as secure her third 50 freestyle title in as many attempts. She won the 100 breaststroke last year (1:05.59) but missed out on a meet record, set at 1:03.29 in 2011 by Philomath's Annette Marinello, after a switch from the 50 free. Her top time at state in the 50 free (24.28 set in 2012) is second only in the smallest classification to Henley's Stephanie North, who went 24.06 in 2008.
"My goal is to break the record that I have set right now in the 100 fly," Sapienza says of her final high school meet. "If I don't have the 50 free one then I'll try and strive for that one, too, but I know I want to break the 100 fly one for sure. The butterfly's my stroke and I want to see where I can leave that record as I'm leaving high school."
Those aspirations may not only net her more records in an illustrious career that has her bound for Vanderbilt next season, they may earn her status as one of the state's all-time elite should she find her groove this weekend.
Sapienza enters this year's state meet with the top qualifying time in the 100 fly (55.03) and 50 free (24.08), but her personal record of 53.88 in the fly puts her in contention of the all-classification record of 53.13 set last year by Westview's Michelle Cefal. The all-classification record in the 50 free of 22.83 was set by Roseburg's Kaylin Bing in 2011 and is also within reach.
"I'm looking forward to this weekend and I'm hoping I can get good times," says Sapienza, who is also a 4.0 student. "I know that the whole experience is going to be fun. It's my last high school state meet and I want to make the most of it."
How she's been able to land in her current position is a testament to her determined spirit.
"All I can say is if you put your mind toward something and it's your dream and you work really hard for it daily then your dream can become a reality," she says. "It did for me."
Sapienza started to swim competitively at 8 but really began to blossom four years later after teaming with Superior Stingrays coach Robin Brickenden, who immediately saw her potential in the butterfly, in a move spearheaded by her parents Rick and Otilia.
"She was a pretty fast little breaststroker at the time and I saw her becoming a great flyer so I turned her into a flyer," says Brickenden. "But she's still a pretty fast breaststroker and is also strong in the 100 backstroke and freestyles."
It was with the club team that Sapienza has made her greatest strides, including a highlight appearance at the U.S. Olympic Trials for the 100 fly in 2012.
"She's worked really hard and the thing is she's put with me for six years now and I've put her through probably hell and back in the water," says Brickenden. "She wanted something and she was willing to work hard to get it."
That training has included morning swims twice a week from 6:15-7:15 and land training from 6-7 with Cascade Christian conditioning coach Dennis Konency on the three other weekday mornings. Then there's the nightly practices at Superior Athletic Club from 6:30-8:30, where Brickenden pulls no punches in challenging his swimmers.
"Those are pretty brutal," admits Sapienza. "I don't know if I can give one special thing that we do, I just know everyday I leave there feeling sore and tired. You feel accomplished when you're done with that practice."
As a peak inside that world, Brickenden proudly says Sapienza can handle butterfly sets up to 3,000 yards now, which is no small feat of concentration considering the pool utilized by the Stingrays extends 25 yards.
"It's just really hard to translate with what the area is used to in football and basketball and baseball and soccer and all that," says Brickenden. "Swimming's just not that big of a sport here but she really has slaved."
"There's no easy way in any sport, I'm sure," he adds, "but in the sport of swimming there just is no easy way because you've got to work so hard because you're trying to overcome resistance in water which is 750 times more than air and it's exponentially more difficult to get fast."
Yet here the 5-foot-5 Sapienza stands, a prolific swimmer who credits the sport and those around her for helping make her dreams come true.
"Swimming's really taught me a lot of responsibility, time management and the reality that whatever you put into something, you'll get out of it," she says. "It's just basically made me more well-rounded. It helps having good friends to practice with, too, because they understand what you're going through. You can tell friends at school what you're doing and they understand a little bit but it's nothing compared to the girls on the team who go through it daily with you and understand that more."
"I'm happy I've achieved my goals here," adds Sapienza, "because then I can show other people on my team that you don't need to move up to Portland or somewhere that has a high-end facility to train. Obviously, that can be overcome. You can achieve goals here with just a six-lane, 25-yard pool."
It just might take a little extra effort.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry