Swimming and diving state championships
Who: Division I and Division II
When: Thursday — Division I diving; Division I swimming preliminaries. Friday — Division II diving; Division II swimming preliminaries; Saturday — All finals, beginning at 11:45 a.m.
Where: Kino Junior High, 848 N. Horne, Mesa
Boys — Brian Stevens, Brophy (200 free); Chris Webb, Brophy (200 IM, 500 free); Payton Sorenson, Mountain View (50 free); Matthew Mozdzen, Chandler (100 fly); Jake Stoll, Mesquite (100 free); John Dowd, Red Mountain (100 free); Zach Bradley, Mountain Pointe (100 back); Shane Essert, Brophy (100 breast); Alex Brouwer, Notre Dame (50 free, 100 back); Chris Pickard, Arcadia (100 fly); Ben Brouwer, Notre Dame (500 free).
Girls — Kat Simonovic, Mountain View (200 free, 100 breast); Katie Olsen, Desert Vista (200 IM); Kelli Benjamin, Gilbert (50 free, 100 free); Leticia Lelli, Chaparral (100 fly, 100 back); Megan Cox, Chaparral (500 free); Briana Jurries, Valley Christian (100 fly); Alexis Daswick, Notre Dame (100 back).
When John Dowd was a sophomore two years ago, friends convinced him to join the swim team.
His expectations were low: There would be no swimming after he graduated from Red Mountain because the practices were too hard, and he would just enjoy the time hanging out with his buddies.
It didn’t quite turn out that way.
“Actually,” Dowd said with a laugh, “of the friends that I came in with, one is doing cross-country and the other isn’t swimming this year. We’ve been lifelong friends. The one told me he was going out for cross country. I was like, ‘What?’”
As for that decision not to swim in college? That’s changing, too. After a pedestrian year as a sophomore, Dowd rocketed up to third overall in the 100-meter freestyle race at state last year, and is now one of the favorites to capture this year’s title on Saturday at Kino Junior High in Mesa.
A coach from Missouri will watch him race, and if he swims fast enough, a scholarship offer could be on the way.
“I used to say that I never wanted to swim in college,” Dowd said. “I wanted to play water polo. But after last year’s performance at state, I figured I might as well look into it if I could get something out of it.”
Dowd doesn’t have any illustrious family history in swimming. His dad tried it in high school, but stopped before his senior year. Dowd played water polo and basketball originally, and he didn’t begin training year-round until this year.
But coach Mike Peterson saw the natural talent, and realized the biggest obstacle in getting Dowd competitive would be Father Time.
“He’s competing against guys that have been doing this year-round since they were seven,” Peterson said. “On the one hand, it’s a disadvantage because you love all that experience. On the other, he’s like a puppy dog, wagging his tail and ready to race. That part I like.”
Dowd didn’t qualify for the finals in the 100 as a sophomore, but Peterson still knew he had something.
“When kids swim, you can tell if their kick pushes them forward or just kind of makes splashes,” Peterson said. “He has a kick that moves him forward.”
Dowd finished last year’s race in 47.75 seconds, shaving off nearly five seconds from his initial season.
This year, the goal is 45 seconds. He has qualified with a time of 47.27 seconds, which is the second-fastest time, six-hundredths of a second behind Mesquite’s Jake Stoll.
Peterson said an elite swimmer must have natural talent, but work ethic is another large part of it, and Dowd has always been one of the team’s hardest workers.
“A big part of it is learning how to work that hard for that long,” Peterson said. “When you’re working on a February morning for what’s going to happen in November, that’s some long-term vision on a kid’s part. He absolutely kills himself in practice. When it’s time to go hard, he goes hard.”
Dowd is hoping to save his best race for last. A state title and a scholarship offer are within reach. For a kid that had no competitive expectations coming in, it’s a lot of pressure.
“It’s stressful,” Dowd said. “If I don’t get the time they’re looking for... I try to leave it behind, but it’s hard. It’s always there. Hopefully I can get it out of my mind in time for the state meet.”
Peterson teaches at Red Mountain, and talks to students about competing on the swim team.
He said with enough work, kids can transform themselves from average to great swimmers in a short amount of time, which is uncommon in other sports.
With Dowd, he has the perfect example.
“From basically not making state to being in this position is an incredible jump over a two-year period,” Peterson said.