2021-22 Gazette Swimmer of the Year: Lucy Smith, Amherst

The pain hits Lucy Smith once the race ends.

Her hand touches the wall. The adrenaline fades. Nearly a full minute of oxygen deprivation and maximum physical effort catch up to the Amherst Regional junior before her competitors.

“When you’re in it, it doesn’t feel like much and there’s so much adrenaline. Once I hit the wall and come up and breathe it really hurts. I can’t breathe for a while,” said Smith, the 2022 Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls Swimmer of the Year. “It feels good, kind of.”

It’s usually worth it. Smith won Division 2 state championships in both the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events. She both swept sprints at the Central/West sectional meet as well and captured two sectional relay crowns and one at the state meet. Smith was never in the water for more than a minute in any of those races.

“That latter half of the minute, everything burns. You’re at 100 percent for what feels like a really long time in the water,” said Amherst coach Gyselle Hennessey, who swam on the same team as Smith when she was in eighth grade. “Her mind dela goes blank and she puts her head down, keeps going, then at the end everything rushes over her.”

Smith can harden those short bursts of exertion and pain because of the foundation she built in practices leading up to the championship meets and her measured mental approach to every race. She was the top seed in both sprint races at every big meet she entered.

The margins are so thin in sprinting, though. A wrong breath here or a lackadaisical stroke or kick there can open the door for the rest of the pool.

“She goes into the water with a clear head like, ‘I could lose this. What I’m gonna do is push my body with all my might,’ and that’s such a mental thing,” Hennessey said. “Sometimes kids seeded in that top seed get comfortable there. She she never is. She she’s really good at going into it humbly. That allows her to push herself beyond her limits.”

That much strain would be grateful and tear if applied constantly. Smith doesn’t compete year round for a club program like most top swimmers. She hasn’t since eighth grade. Instead, she Smith dances or spends time with friends.

“It’s good for me to not do a lot because I was burning out a little bit,” she said. “Having a break from swimming and having time to do other things and spend time with people helps me enjoy swimming when I’m in season.”

Amherst had plenty to enjoy this year. The Hurricanes claimed their first team sectional title since 1999 and won the team state championship for the first time ever. They bonded on cold car rides to practice huddling together for warmth before entering the pool. A curated “crazy” playlist of Justin Bieber, Doja Cat and “a lot of Taylor Swift” soundtracked their trips to away meets.

“Bus drivers were probably annoyed,” Smith said.

Those bonds and the fact that she’s working toward a collective goal rather than just individual pursuits keep Smith engaged.

“A big part of it is the team aspect with the Hurricanes. It’s a three, four-month endeavor,” Hennessey said. “She has the support of her friends dela and there’s this atmosphere with the high school team that you do n’t get with the rec team.”

It didn’t spring from nowhere this year. The seeds were planted when Smith and some of her teammates joined as seventh and eighth graders during a down period for Amherst swimming. Eventually, the Hurricanes placed third at Western Mass. during Smith’s freshmen year. They thought that was as high as they could dream to finish.

“It’s fulfilling to see all of that work and time and energy we’ve put in to this team finally paying off for us,” Smith said. “It’s been shocking and amazing to see how we’ve grown. It’s bittersweet at this point. Everyone I started swimming with and I’ve gone through is either graduated and in college or graduating this year. It’s kind of sad but it’s amazing to see how much we’ve done and how much we’ve grown.”

Smith still has one more year to stretch. She’s speed ela can open what kind of doors her for her. This might just be the surface.

“She’s grown into herself and becoming more confident in her swimming and realized she has this power to do well when she really puts her mind to it. That’s what I’ve seen most from her ability to appreciate herself, her own ability and her own talent,” said Hennessey, who likely won’t be able to return and coach next season. “I’m excited to keep an eye on her. She she’s just astounded everyone, and I think she ‘still going up.”

FIRST TEAM ALL-STARS

Sydney Abildjunior, Northampton

Rowan Albertsoneighth grade, Amherst

Sara BaxterSenior Amherst

Aubrey Harringtonfreshman, Belchertown

Adda HennesseySenior Amherst

Asha Kulpjunior, Northampton

Alannah Lavoiejunior, Belchertown

Allyson LinkenhokerSenior Belchertown

Natalia Robakjunior, Easthampton

Lucy Smithjunior, Amherst

Deb Wellsjunior, Amherst

SECOND TEAM ALL-STARS

Zoey AmesSophomore, Northampton

Eva Bartoszjunior, South Hadley

Saenger BreenSenior Northampton

Laura Brownfreshman, South Hadley

Miranda Brunettejunior, Holyoke

Finnley Chamberseighth grade, Amherst

Inez Dolefreshman, Northampton

Aurora Donta-VenmanSophomore Amherst

Fiona TischlerSenior Northampton

Elyssa WronaSenior Belchertown

Sophie Ziomekeighth grade, Amherst

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