Ledyard High junior Jessica Hespeler enjoyed the best of both aquatic worlds, scholastic and club swimming, this fall.
After she earned All-Area Swimmer of the Year and finished second in the State Open 500 freestyle as a Colonel freshman in 2009, Hespeler took a similar route of select swimmers. She took the high road.
Hespeler bypassed her sophomore scholastic season to focus solely on intense training and higher competition with the southeastern-Connecticut based Connecticut Aquatics Club.
Ledyard’s girls’ team slumped in her absence, winning just one meet last year. Hespeler enjoyed on outstanding CAC year-round campaign, making U.S. Swimming Scholastic All-America and second in three 16-and-under long course national freestyle races. But she also felt a void.
“I missed high school swimming last year,” Hespeler said. "My coaches met before this season to see how I could be part of both Ledyard and CAC. I'm glad we made a plan because it was nice to be back with the girls."
Hespeler's parents met with Christine Pelham, Hespeler’s coach with CAC, Ledyard coach Alan Opsahl and Ledyard athletic director Jim Buonocore before the season. They “pooled” resources to allow Hespeler to compete for both squads this fall. The fact that the Colonels and CAC each train at the Avery Point pool also made the partnership do-able.
"It is possible to enjoy the best of both worlds provided all parties involved decide to work together," Pelham said. "We discussed overall training Jessica would do and what we felt was needed to get where she wanted to go."
It was a win-win situation. Hespeler raised the Colonels’ profile as a team while training twice a week with CAC. In the end, she whittled seconds off her times in specialty long freestyle races. She reached her apex last Saturday, winning the 200 and 500 freestyle races at the CIAC State Open.
Hespeler, one of only two double winners in the Open, shaved three seconds off her Class S second-place time in the 200 to win in 1:50.19. After winning the S 500 in 5:03, she smashed that mark with an All-America consideration time of 4:56.25 in the Open finals.
Her dazzling effort earns her Patch Athlete of the Week honors.
Five Fairfield County teams topped with State Open team scores. Few from the country-club, pool-happy, swimming-crazed “Gold Coast” expected a Class S competitor, one from an ECC school without a pool and one that finished second in a race no less, to share.
Hespeler credits her sizzling times to a sense of urgency and positive pressure.
“I think facing better competition and knowing it was the last meet of the high school season pushed me harder,” Hespeler said.
The State Open success came about a week after she was honored as a U.S. Swimming Scholar All-America, given to outstanding swimmers with over a 3.5 grade point average.
“A lot of swimmers excel academically,” Hespeler said. “It goes along with working hard in the pool and the work ethic you need to study to build a strong academic foundation.”
Pelham believes Hespeler hasn't come close to reaching her potential.
"Jessica's ability to being outstanding comes from hard work," Pelham said. "Her motivation comes from goal setting. She has made the cuts to get herself to the bigger and better meets in the nation and that is very exciting for a young woman. She is close to a junior national cut which is our motivation as we get back onto our USA track and head to the Austin Grand Prix in January."
Now that Hespeler is training full-time with CAC and Pelham, testing her wares against the nation's best, you might wonder if she'll return to Ledyard swimming for her senior year. After all, she already accomplished the ultimate of winning two State Open races.
“I’m definitely coming back for my senior year," Hespeler said. "I had a lot of fun this fall."