HELENA — Helena Capital High swimmer Zach Waldhams tries to employ as many effective psychological ploys on himself to enhance his performance at each event he competes in.

Waldhams has an intrinsic motivation to make this year’s state event his best because this year’s appearance will also be the senior’s last.

When Waldhams is the on the block, he attempts to transfer his nervous energy into the performance, and pretend his other seven competitors in the accompanying lanes don’t exist.

This allows Waldhams to achieve his optimal performance, and not get overwhelmed by the enormity of the big event simultaneously.

“I guess you just have to block out everyone, put yourself first, and yet be mindful of the team because you have to almost (mentally) make the other teams disappear,” Waldhams said. “I have to feel like I can beat every one of those people in the other seven lanes. You can make it happen if you focus. You can do anything, especially in this sport. Swimming is unique that way.”

Waldhams, who has the aspiration of state gold, will carry the additional emotional burden of the finality of competing in his last high school event. He is trying not to become overwhelmed with this reality.

“It seems like this swimming season has been so short,” Wadhams said. “It’s gone by so fast, and it’s been so much fun. That is for sure.”

Waldhams admits he is experiencing one of his most best seasons and enjoys swimming with his 78 teammates from both Capital and Helena.

Swimming in the 100-breaststroke and the 50-freestyle, Waldhams is hoping to drop some times.

“This will be my last time swimming competitively,” Waldhams said. “I want to swim the best I’ve ever done. Swimming is one of the most individualized sports. When you are in a pool swimming half naked with your other teammates, you really get to know people that you wouldn’t ordinarily know. All of your teammates work together and support one another. When one person gets better, it brings up the team morale.”

Getting in the zone

Capital and Helena coach Julie Shannon and her team of assistants help enable the Bruins and Bengals competitors to find that zone Waldhams hopes to see himself in at state.

“This week (leading up to state) is ultimately hell week,” Shannon said. “We try to swim them as hard as we can, and try to keep them focused on their techniques, their streamlines and the kick out because in an event like this, fractions of a second can make a difference.”

The preparation leading up to the state isn’t just physical, it’s mental.

“Getting them mentally prepared starts at the beginning of the season,” Shannon said. “We just try to get them to focus on the state as the culminating event. Every day since day one, we’ve tried to get them geared and ready for state.”

The assistants even do what they refer to as “dry land,” a form of strength training techniques with the purpose of improving a swimmer’s mechanics when they are in the water.

“We want our swimmers to take that nervous energy and not let it affect them negatively, but positively use that stress to achieve well,” Shannon said. “We want them to swim well at every meet, and have the same expectations of giving it their best effort.”

Teamwork, dream work

In high school swimming, similar to wrestling, there are two components with team and individual. Shannon and her staff put an emphasis on both.

Helena swimmer Jacob Demmons, who is at his third-ever state event, swimming one in Fargo, North Dakota, as well as two MHSA events, said multiple factors motivate him.

“As far as the individual component, I focus on my time, and before the races, I try to see how many seconds I can drop in each event,” Demmons said. “What motivates me in the team component is that I am thinking, ‘I don’t want to lose to Capital,’ and I do everything to make sure Helena wins.’”

Capital swimmer Frances Redpath refers to the state atmosphere as unique, and because of the single size of the event, she absorbs the enormity of the event by listening to music on her headphones and blocking out distractions to collectively maintain her focus on the task at hand.

Redpath, a transfer student from New York, puts on her headphones and tries to visualize to achieve her primary objective.

“I just focus on racing because that is the most important reason I am there,” said Redpath, who finished second in the 100 fly, and fourth in the 200 IM last year, said. “I just try to focus on why I am there.”

Following a previous coach’s advice on training, Redpath has taken it to heart to become one of Capital’s top-tier swimmers.

“I had an old coach say ‘you train smart, and you swim stupid,’ ” Redpath said. “During the race, you throw all of the mental components away and try not to overthink things. It sounds so simple. I listen to music and try not to get distracted by any part of the state. When you get on the block, you get out of your head and focus on what you can do."

Capital's Cassie Williams is one of the leaders on this team, according to Redpath, and this year hopes to guide her team to state success.

A 12-year veteran of competitive swimming, Williams, who swims for the Bruins and the Helena Lions swim club, hopes to guide the 70-plus swimmers to achieve positive results headed into the final meet of the season.

“I think I am just focusing on what needs to get done,” Williams said. “This is probably the biggest part of succeeding is that you just put your head down and focus on getting it done. I hope to go out with a bang and to do well in my final meet.”

Jason Blasco is the lead prep sports reporter for the Helena Indepedent-Record and a sports reporter for the 406mtsports.com network.

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