CUMBERLAND — Throughout the 2012-13 winter campaign, then-Cumberland High sophomore Jack Bauer improved at a rapid rate, causing older brother Andrew to continue to hassle him about registering for a USA Swimming-affiliated club program.
Andrew, a phenomenal distance freestyler in his own right, had done the same, and he reasoned that Jack would only get faster, given the more grueling workouts.
Initially, the younger Bauer dismissed such talk, as he wanted to attempt to excel in other sports, namely basketball. Last September, however, he decided to take Andrew's advice and involved himself with Adirondack Aquatics of Franklin.
Under former Attleboro High phenom and Adirondack head coach Kyle Browning, Bauer almost immediately saw a difference in his speed.
At the annual Read/Watmough Invitational Swimming Championships held on Jan. 12 at the Roger Williams University natatorium, Bauer took fourth in the 100-yard butterfly with a stellar clocking of 55.74, then placed second in the 100-yard backstroke in 56.86.
Both times were quicker than the ones he had spun in the same two events at the R.I. Championships last February (56.17 in the 100 fly, where he finished fifth, and 57.64 in the 100 back, where he placed fourth).
Only two days after the Read/Wat-mough – during a Division I dual meet against talented Smithfield at Bryant University – he finished first in the 100 butterfly in a respectable 55.99, but then achieved a lifetime-best while claiming the backstroke in 56.77.
“I was really surprised by that time; the meet was so late (7 p.m. start time), and I was coming off a lot of hard practices with Adirondack, so I knew I was swimming tired,” Bauer stated. “Actually, once I got out of the pool and talked to my coach (newcomer Kyle Black, who used to swim under legendary CHS mentor Bruce Calvert before graduating in 1998), he told me my time, and I was, like, 'What?'
“He must have repeated it four or five times; I didn't believe him,” he added. “But I've been swimming really fast lately, and I've improved quite a bit. I started with Adirondack in September, once the school year started, and I'm noticing the difference.
“A lot of people were bugging me to take it more seriously, and to swim on the club level, but I loved basketball. Andrew (now a freshman freestyler at Worcester Polytechnic Institute) kept saying I had a lot of potential; he said, 'Man, you're going to get so much faster!' Finally, it sunk in.
“I liked what I did at states last year, and I thought I could build off that. I also wanted to improve my endurance. One of my problems in the backstroke was I'd take it out fast, but my second 50 was much slower. The same was true of the butterfly, where I'd fade the last 25.
“I just wanted to tighten up those 50 splits; I wanted them to be closer together.”
Bauer offered one workout with Adirondack as being a catalyst for his time drops. Browning gave his older group a distance set of two 700-yard freestyles, one every nine minutes; then a pair of 500s, one every 6:30; then a trio of 300s, one every 3:30; and, finally, four 100s every 1:10.
The whole idea behind it was for the swimmers to decrease distance but increase speed in each of those subsets; it also helps each athlete to work on not only conditioning (early on in the total set) but also keeping each 50-yard split as even as possible).
Bauer admitted he thought that phase of the practice was over at that point, but Browning surprised them once more. He asked them to partake in more of a sprint-oriented set, which included one 300 on 3:30; two 200s on 2:20; three 100s, one every 1:05; then four 50s, one every 30 ticks.
During those 50s, Bauer would gain perhaps a second or two of rest before having to push off the wall for the next one.
“That was brutal,” he laughed of the workout, one that totaled 4,900 yards, or well over two-and-a-half miles. “It was exhausting, but sets like that have helped so much. I was dying out there, but I kept thinking that all of it would help me in the long run. It has – and then some.”
Bauer also has seen a difference in his relay splits. While swimming the 50-yard butterfly in the Clippers' 200 medley relay at the Read/Watmough, he mustered a split of 24.58.
As for his 100 time in the 400 freestyle relay, he came within a heartbeat of breaking 50 seconds for the first time in his career.
“I went 50.04, so getting to 49-whatever is one of my next goals,” he said.
To be truthful, Bauer currently ranks in the top three in Rhode Island in both of his specialties, and is hell-bent on snaring his first state individual event crown on Feb. 23 at Brown; that's when the state championship meet will begin.
Still, he's pondering a change in his entry. He most probably will compete in the 100 backstroke, but may switch from the 100 butterfly to the 200 individual medley, just to mix things up and make it more interesting for him.
“I swam in the Bowdoin (Me.) Open meet (USA Swimming-affiliated), and I went 2:06 in the IM, but I think I can do better,” he claimed. “I've been swimming more breaststroke (the third leg of the race) in practice, and I know my other strokes are good. I also believe the 100 fly would be more competitive, as there are more swimmers in it, so I'm considering doing the IM.
“I also know, if I place higher in that event, I can score more points for our team,” he added.
He's not just an excellent aquaman, but a premier student, as he currently ranks third in his junior class at Cumberland High with a 3.92 GPA.
“He's a terrific kid, very smart,” noted Clippers' head coach Black. “With swimming, he has such a cool, calm demeanor; he never gets too up or down. When he's standing behind the block (prior to racing), he's thinking. He doesn't get too amped up.
“At the Read/Watmough, though, when a relay was about to swim, that's when you saw a change. He was the one to round up (his fellow swimmers) and get them pumped up. He's much more vocal then, always cheering on his teammates.
“With the individual events, he's more quiet, more cerebral,” he continued. “You can tell he has that knowledge of how to swim the race and the confidence to know he'll do well. He understands all the training he's done is only going to make him faster, and that it will pay off. You can tell he's thinking about the little things – the start, getting off the walls quickly, the butterfly kick underwater.
“You know he's thinking, 'How do I maximize these things to do the best I can?' He honestly doesn't seem to get nervous. He's got that calmness about him. When he gets to states, I think he's going to be right in the thick of it, and we will contend for a couple of state titles. If he doesn't, I know Jack; he's going to be really close.”