Pooling her skills with others

Patty Rawlick: An elite swimmer, she has put individual glory aside for the fun of being on C.M. Wright's team.

January 19, 2003|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

The start of a meet at Magnolia Middle School in Joppa last week was about 10 minutes away and senior Patty Rawlick was among a pack of huddled C. Milton Wright swimmers, loudly spelling out Mustangs in unison.

Moments later, she was poolside, easing the wait until her first race by cheering, laughing and congratulating several of the Mustangs, who passed their team captain on the way out of the pool.

In Harford County, where some elite swimmers forgo the high school season to focus on their club careers, Rawlick has been a four-year standout for the Mustangs.

As for a hint why the radiant 17-year-old with an accomplished resume with the North Baltimore Aquatics Club sets aside club commitments to swim with the Mustangs for four months, one need only look at the wide smile that remained on her face throughout Tuesday's meet.

"I love high school swimming," said Rawlick, who will swim at Division I James Madison next year. "You get to compete with your peers, represent your school and in a fun team environment. I just think everybody should have the chance to be a part of a team."

She's been so dominant since arriving at the Bel Air school with a natural stroke that belied only four years of competitive swimming that Mustangs coach Larry Ashman called her "one of the best to ever come out of Harford County."

The proof is there. Rawlick has competed in 109 high school races - not counting relays - and finished first in 108 of them. The lone blemish was at the 2000 county championships, when the then-freshman was touched out at the wall in the 100 freestyle by John Carroll's Lauren Betzing.

Rawlick said that since Betzing was a club teammate and friend, it was a little easier to accept, but Ashman recalled an annoyed Rawlick vowing revenge. "She didn't like that taste in her mouth and she's been fighting it ever since," said Ashman.

Rawlick, who favors the sprint freestyles and the 200 individual medley, holds nine out of 11 school records and possesses more top five times than any other swimmer in school history. On Tuesday, she shattered her own record in the 200 individual medley with a time of 2 minutes, 12.65 seconds.

The C. Milton Wright girls team has won three of the past four county team titles and is favored again this year, largely because of Rawlick, who has nine gold medals in county championships. In last year's competition, she anchored her 400 freestyle relay team to a time of 3:44.69, breaking the county record.

"We needed to take off four seconds from our time in the prelims," said junior Amanda Barnes. "We all figured it was one second a girl, but Patty took off two seconds by herself. She came in, hit the wall and we all started crying."

It's that camaraderie that has made Rawlick decide to stay with her high school team. She swayed over the decision for a long time, especially before her sophomore season.

"I saw drastic drops in my times between freshman and sophomore years, and I was really looking forward to being more competitive in the state of Maryland, not just high school," said the Forest Hills resident, who has done well against some of the top competition in the East Coast with the Maryland State Zone team.

"It's really hard when you're trying to think about what's best for you and your career. ... I really wish there was some way I could swim here and at least get in two practices a week with my club team."

County rules say that in order to participate in county meets, athletes must practice with their high school teams. Because of the slim availability of pools, high school practices run for just a little over an hour, a factor that chases away some of the top swimmers, who seek quicker improvement from the daily 2 1/2 -hour club practices.

"High school season is a little more relaxing, but it also can be stressful because I know I have to work a lot harder on my own because I'm not in the pool as much," said Rawlick, a member of the same club that has produced 10 Olympians, most recently, Towson's Michael Phelps in the 2000 Games. "Just knowing that I'm staying in shape and succeeding in something I like to do is very motivating."

After spending the rest of the year and winter weekends devoting four hours daily to pool work and dry-land exercises, Rawlick isn't exactly at a loss for things to do with the extra time.

The senior, with a 3.89 grade point average who is ranked in the top 8 percent of her class, is the president of the Spanish Honor Society, a member of the National Honor Society, works at the school store as part of the Varsity Club and student teaches in her mother's third-grade class.

Then, there is the time she spends organizing team bonding sessions or helping teammates.

Ashman called her the All-American kid and a coach's dream. Barnes, also a club teammate, said Rawlick is "so perfect, it can be annoying." But that comment was followed with a hearty laugh.

"Patty is one of us," Barnes said. "I like to call us glorified high school swimmers and Patty is a great role model for that."

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