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Marlins get valuable experience at Olympic trials

'That's the big thing, getting the next cycle going and using this as experience and knowledge for the step ahead,' says coach
The three Guelph Marlin Aquatic Club members who qualified for the Canadian Olympic swimming trials pose with coach Hendrik van der Merwe at the Victor Davis Pool. The swimmers were, from left, Matthew Marsella (200m butterfly), Greg Hayward (50m and 100m freestyle) and Jenna Walters (50m, 100m and 200m freestyle).

For the trio of Guelph Marlin Aquatic Club members who qualified to compete in the Canadian Olympic Swimming Trials at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre’s pool last week, getting experience and setting personal best times were the goals.

“That's the big thing, getting the next cycle going and using this as experience and knowledge for the step ahead,” said Hendrik van der Merwe, their Marlins’ coach since September.

Greg Hayward, Mathew Marsella and Jenna Walters were each to make their first appearances in the Olympic Trials although Walters did compete in last year’s national championship meet.

None were named to Canada's Olympic swimming team.

“I think a lot of people more put in the effort more for this Trials whereas last year it's just kind of a big event, a big meet for the year. But this year it's something you want to work towards,” Walters said. “I'd say a lot of people more ... put focus on this year.”

Putting the focus on this meet was something the Marlins did as each looked to turn in personal best performances.

“My main goal is to just see if I can go down another second,” Marsella said of competing in the men’s 200m butterfly, his lone event at the meet. “A good meet would be if I could (do that). That would be great for me and I'd really like that.”

For Waterloo CI student Hayward, he figured a competition in the Pan-Am pool would help with setting personal bests. He’s to compete in the men’s 50m and 100m freestyle races.

“It's Canada's fastest pool so it's pretty fast. I like it,” he said of the pool he’d competed in several times.

For Walters, a Centennial CVI student who's to attend Princeton in the fall, 2024 has already been a good swimming year. She’s to swim in the women’s 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle races.

“It's been going pretty well. I went to Luxembourg in January with Swim Ontario. It's been pretty exciting,” she said. “I've experienced a lot of new things and I've talked to a lot of different people this year. I've talked to a lot of different coaches and I think I've learned a lot.”

The biggest bonus for the swimmers making their Trials debuts would be getting to see where they stack up against the country’s best and getting to see how the Olympians prepare and race.

“I’ll watch up close to see what they do and come back here and work on what I need to work on,” Hayward said. “I'm just excited to go and be on the same deck as a lot of the top performers in Canada, Canadian record holders, future Olympians that this would be their first Olympics. I'm excited to race them to see what they can do.”

“I've always kind of been able to improve by just looking at – like alright, how are the people who are better than me at this, how do they do it and what are they doing so I can improve,” Guelph CVI student Marsella said. “For fly, that's just mostly like what are their breathing patterns and how far are they reaching. A struggle that I generally kind of face is my underwater. How do they do their underwater so I can just get a little bit faster each time.”

And the fact the club had swimmers at the Olympic Trials can have a bit of a rub-off effect on their clubmates.

“All three of them have good leadership qualities because they set the tone, they set the example for the rest and that sort of influences the rest,” van der Merwe said.

After watching Canada’s best compete, the locals will be looking to bring their new- found knowledge back and work it into their training routines.

“A few weeks ago at Canadian trials I was in the ready room before the 100 free with a bunch of Olympians like Summer McIntosh, Penny Oleksiak, Maggie Mac Neil, and they're all just having fun,” Walters, a freestyle specialist, said. “You learn a bit from that and you see what they do at the meets and how they get ready and you compare and sometimes you take things from what they're doing and incorporate it into what you're doing.

“This is more to see what I could do here,” Marsella said. “I made it and that's the goal here and I think next four years is just how much better can I be in those four years and then see what happens.”