During a fine freshman season, Warren backstroke star Elin Smith showed she had the potential to do special things in the water.
During her 2012-13 sophomore season, Smith took that to the next level, winning a District 10 Class AAA title in the girls 100-yard backstroke and qualifying for the PIAA Swimming Championships that began Wednesday at Lewisburg's Bucknell University.
Smith is scheduled to compete in the preliminaries for her 100 back event at 8 a.m. Saturday morning while the consolations and finals for the event are scheduled for 5:45 p.m. later that night.
Warren sophomore Elin Smith
While Smith's quick rise to the PIAA level may have come as a surprise to some, one person who saw Smith's potential was Warren head swimming coach Jeff Walters.
"I watched her, along with many others, work very hard in the offseason," said Walters. "She took the time to travel to Bradford and participate in a program at Pitt-Bradford that helped her improve upon her skills. She put in a lot of hard work to prepare for this season and it has certainly paid off."
Smith credited the support and efforts of her coaches - as well as early season success - with providing the motivation to reach the state level.
"Early in the season, my times were very good and close to where I thought they needed to be, so that gave me motivation to try to improve," said Smith. "Really, without the support and time training with all of my coaches, I wouldn't be where I'm at today."
While Smith will be making the trip to states as Warren's lone competitor, she won't be the only Dragon attending. Several of her teammates are planning to make the three-and-a-half-hour trip to Bucknell to support Smith at her first PIAA meet. According to Walters, it is Smith's teammates that have largely contributed to her success.
"She's definitely worked hard and displayed the discipline necessary to make herself a great swimmer," he said. "But I think the one thing she has that maybe a lot of swimmers in the district don't have is some amazing teammates. She has fed off them and they have pushed her to get better every day."
Smith is excited that teammates and coaches will get to share the PIAA experience with her.
"For them to make the trip all the way to Bucknell just to watch me swim, it just means everything," she said.
The sophomore has already had to overcome obstacles in the two weeks since she won her D-10 title and became the first Warren swimmer to qualify for states since 2007-08 when the girls 200 free relay team of Kelsey Nuhfer, Linda Betts, Jessica Nuhfer and Elizabeth Evans won a District 10 title.
While preparing for her biggest meet to date, Smith was forced to sit out a couple of days of practice with a harsh cold virus.
"We just figured it was better to rest her and get back at it this week," said Walters. "When we have been in the pool, we've been trying to do a mini-taper and get on track for this weekend. At this point though, it's more about getting right between the ears than anything we do in the pool. She has the ability and talent. She's just got to prepare herself for the stage this meet is played out on."
Smith will have two days to acclimate herself to her surroundings. She will be in the Bucknell University pool on both Thursday and Friday before actually competing on Saturday.
Smith is trying to keep her expectations in check. Of the 32 Class AAA swimmers qualified in the girls 100 backstroke, Smith is seeded 30th with a time of 59.83. The event's top seed is West Chester East senior Christina Leander with a time of 54.79 seconds.
Smith said she'll leave her first PIAA meet satisfied if she has a "good time," - both in and out of the pool.
"I want to enjoy the experience and have it be a positive trip," said Smith. "But I also would like to post a good time in the pool. That would be a nice way to end the year."
Walters hopes Smith's experience helps build the program's future.
"My expectations and hopes are to present her with an awesome opportunity to walk into that facility and compete against some of the fastest swimmers in the nation," said Walters. "She's going to be in the same water as some of the very best. I want her to take that experience and bring it back with her to motivate herself and her teammates to get back there next season. Hopefully, next season, Elin won't have to make this trip (to states) alone."