State champ

Bickel best at backstroke

By Jordan J. Michael

GUILDERLAND –– After breaking the Section II record for the 100-yard backstroke two weeks ago, Jenna Bickel kicked her way to Buffalo last weekend and won a state title in the same event.

“I can hear the other swimmers next to me, but I don’t know where they are,” Bickel said, describing the championship race. “I used to let all the pressure get to me, but now I try not to let all that freak me out.”

Bickel, a junior at Guilderland and a member of the Guilderville swim team, which combines swimmers from Guilderland and Voorheesville, posted a time of 56.30 at Erie Community College on Saturday to win the state championship for backstroke. She also finished 19th in the 50-yard freestyle, an event she won at sectionals.

“This is something I’ve always wanted to accomplish,” said Bickel, who was attending her fourth state meet in as many years. She’ll compete in Olympic Trials next summer. “It was exciting to do it and I’m so unbelievably happy.”

Bickel told The Enterprise on Monday that her championship race was “really close,” but she won by 0.9 seconds over Alissa Leung of Sewanhaka. That’s a pretty comfortable lead for a 100-yard swim.

The backstroke record for New York is 53.98, set in 2008 by Kim Holden of Ithaca. Bickel said that breaking the mark would be a great goal for next year, but just defending the title is OK with her. “That’s a really fast time,” she said.

Head Coach Brenna Autrey said on Monday that the record isn’t out of reach for Bickel, who has steadily increased her backstroke performance over the years. Bickel has knocked two seconds off her time each year: 1:01.22 in 2007, 59.54 in 2008, and 57.60 in 2009.

“She should go after it,” Autrey said. “It’s definitely a fast time, but just look at how far she’s come. She keeps getting faster and faster. This event is her bread and butter.”

After Bickel won the title, Autrey said that she went over and high-fived her 200-yard freestyle relay teammates and shook hands with the other competitors from the race. Bickel remained humble and didn’t gloat.

“I’m so impressed by that because it’s so easy to just go crazy in that situation,” Autrey said of Bickel. “You wouldn’t have known that she was the winner. She has a humble attitude because she knows what its like not to win. She’s such a great sport.”

Bickel hopes to swim in college and she now feels that winning states will garner her some more attention from prospective schools. “It’s a great accomplishment,” she said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Why did Bickel pick backstroke? It just feels right.

“I’ve always been better at kicking and I like being able to breathe normally,” Bickel said.

Autrey is excited for Bickel’s future as a swimmer and as a person.

“She’s a dedicated hard worker,” Autrey said. “And she has that perfect physique.”

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