Friday, July 31, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Panther swims to Delta

Leader sportswriter

Spending time in a pool is something the majority of people in this part of the world enjoy doing this time of year, but 2015 Cabot High School graduate Noah Joyner has been in the pool for three-straight years now, and he’ll spend his fourth year doing it at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., this fall.

Joyner, who first moved to Cabot, from White Hall, with his family three years ago, was looking for a sport to participate in that suited him.

During that summer in 2012, the summer Olympics was capturing the attention of those around the world, and USA legendary swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, was adding to his Olympic record medal count.

It was something Joyner said caught his attention as well, but it wasn’t until he received some encouragement from a friend that also participated in the sport that Joyner eventually decided that swimming was going to be the sport for him.

“That was probably the main thing,” Joyner said about the 2012 Olympic Games first piquing his swimming interests, “and also, one of my friends (Katie Frederick), she was on the Cabot Piranhas, which is only summer league.

“I had contacted her, because on Facebook, she kept posting pictures of her and her friends in swimsuits, swimming these races, and I was like, that’s the same thing that they’re doing in the Olympics. Katie Frederick, she was the reason why I started swimming.”

Joyner said that Frederick, who’s also a standout on both the CHS swim team and the Cabot Piranhas Central Arkansas Swim League team, gave him everything he needed to know about what it was going to take to get involved in the sport – from where he needed to buy his suits and other equipment, to the necessary tryout forms he’d need to fill out in order to participate.

“That’s pretty much where it started was Katie Frederick and the 2012 Olympics,” Joyner said.

Fatigue is something that got to the new swimmer in his first practices with the Piranhas swim team, which is typical of a newcomer to the sport, and although Joyner came home from practices quite fatigued, he said it never deterred him from wanting to continue, primarily because of how much fun he was having doing it.

“Actually, the first few days I came home, I was tired,” Joyner said. “But I wanted to go back the next day. I don’t know. I loved it, but it was kind of weird. I hated that I was tired, but I loved it because I was having a lot of fun doing it. It was the first sport that I ever enjoyed, and I always loved being in the water.”

In the beginning, Joyner said he didn’t realize how much training would be involved, or how necessary it would be to excel to the level he’s excelled at today.

“I thought to be a racing swimmer in the Olympics you had to be born into it,” Joyner said, “be a star from the moment you were born. I didn’t know anything about the training until I talked to Katie Frederick.

“This was hardcore. Keeping your face in the water, having to hold your breath and move your arms and kick all at the same time. It was something so new.”

The Piranhas’ swimming numbers, along with other local CASL swim teams in the tri-county area, have seen an increase in numbers in recent years, and those numbers continue to rise.

Joyner described what it was like to be involved in the Cabot swim program, as well as how many standouts there are in the CASL – many of whom have been swimming competitively for a lot longer than three years.

“They’re all real nice and there are better swimmers,” Joyner said. “In no way am I the greatest swimmer, but I think in three years I have accomplished a lot. There are others that are better swimmers, and they all help and they’re real nice. Everybody has a good attitude going in. It’s a very social atmosphere.

“There’s some that are more competitive than others, but it’s a great atmosphere to learn how to swim and get better and be what you want. That’s the main thing, is wanting to be there and wanting to be better.”

Joyner has made some big strides since he first got into the pool, competitively, three years ago. His standout performances in the pool and the fact that he continues to improve his times have earned him a spot on the Delta State swim team as a walk-on.

At Joyner’s most recent swim meet, which was the CASL Meet of Champions on July 18, Joyner placed first overall in two events. His winning races were in the 50-yard breaststroke and 100-yard individual medley.

On that day, Joyner became the only swimmer in the CASL MOC history to break 30 seconds in the 50-yard breaststroke race, finishing with a record time of 29.71. He was also the only swimmer that day to eclipse the one-minute mark in the 100-yard IM, finishing that race with a winning time of 59.86.

Joyner also had three second-place finishes at the MOC. Those races were the 50-yard freestyle, 50-yard backstroke and 50-yard butterfly. He finished the freestyle race in 24.35 seconds, the backstroke in 28.03 seconds and the butterfly in 26.79 seconds.

All five of those times ranked at the Platinum level, which is in the highest possible ranking among swim times. He also earned the prestigious High Point award, which is given to the swimmer that scores the most overall points in a particular age group.

As far as what he can expect to take part in while swimming at Delta State, a Division II school, Joyner said the breaststroke and butterfly races are what he’s best at and what he’ll likely be used for, especially in the early goings of his collegiate career.

“The breaststroke is my best,” Joyner said. “It’s the best stroke that I have, and probably butterfly. I would say I’m also pretty strong at butterfly. It’s not my best, but it’s another stroke that I’m really strong at.”

As far as personal goals, Joyner said he hasn’t set anything too high for the near future, other than he simply wants to keep improving his personal bests times.

“I just try to beat my time, no matter what it is,” Joyner said. “Even if it’s by a small little bit, then I’m fine with that. I just want to keep beating my own time and getting a better time than what I had last time.

“Getting a second faster, yeah, that would be awesome, and I strive for that. I strive every swim to get better, but I’m not going to strive for something I can’t reach.”

Having that mindset and approach is part of what helped Joyner set a new MOC breaststroke record two weeks ago. In fact, he made that his goal going into the race.

“By doing that, I didn’t know that I was going to get a 29,” Joyner said of the new record he set on July 18. “I didn’t know I was going to cut almost a whole second off my fastest time. I didn’t know that was going to happen.

“That’s why I have set the goal to always beat my past time. Keep getting personal bests – that’s my goal.”

Joyner isn’t going to Delta State just to be a swimmer for the Statesmen, though. He earned a partial academic scholarship to the west Mississippi school with his grades from high school, and plans to major in pre-med physical therapy.

Taking part in such a major and being a student-athlete at the same time will no doubt come as a challenge, but it’s not the highest goal Joyner has set for himself in the long run. As far as swimming, he said his ultimate dream is to take part in what originally inspired him to get into the pool, competitively.

“Definitely, I have the same dream as every other swimmer and that’s to make it to the Olympics,” Joyner said. “That would be the main goal. It would be a long-term goal and it would be something that I’m going to have to work for, definitely.

“Also, though, I’m setting short-term goals to reach to get to that point. That’s probably the main goal is the Olympics. It’s my dream, it’s everybody’s dream. But, you’ve got to want it and I really want this. I really do.”

Joyner will report to Delta State on Aug. 16. School officially starts the following day and the Statesmen’s first swim meet of the year will be Sept. 11 at Delta State against the University of Alabama.