Hampton senior Jake Kocsis is adapting to a new role.
A year ago, Kocsis was a part of Hampton's 200- and 400-yard freestyle relay team. The Talbots took fourth and third place in those events at the 2012 WPIAL Class AA championship meet. But after graduation losses and changes in personnel, Kocsis anchors a rejuvenated relay team.
He's happy about it, too. Kocsis and three sophomores (his brother Ben, plus Daniel Williams and Matthew Bonino) form the relay squad. They bring speed to a finish like a high-octane jetboat.
Interestingly, the boys were behind in the 200-yard freestyle event against Mars in a recent non-section meet. Hampton had gotten out to a fast start, but couldn't quite catch up to the Planets.
Jake Kocsis was Hampton's anchor. He watched his lane but saw Mars out of the corner of his eye.
"I thought, 'I can't let these guys win,'" he said.
Ben Kocsis had been swimming third and the Talbots were still in the race.
"When I stepped up on that block and saw my brother hit the wall, I needed that motivation to keep going," Jake said.
The crowds cheered from the pool deck and Jake accelerated. In the end, he touched first. Hampton won by a half body-length.
"The guys had the whole pool going," Hampton coach Alex Kubicek recalled. "Parents, coaches, everything."
Six events later, Hampton did it all again.
In the 400-yard freestyle relay, the Talbots were behind until Jake Kocsis touched out Mars at the end. Hampton's time in the 400-free relay was 3:38.10 to Mars' 3:38.25.
"They were behind several body lengths and ended up beating the other team by over a body length," Kubicek said.
Even as Jake Kocsis listened to the crowd and thought of his team, Kubicek explained that the relay wins were really about technique.
"[Jake Kocsis] understood what it was to feed on the crowd and feed on the noise during a time when the only thing you can think of is to put your hand on that wall. ... But he did not sacrifice technique for speed, and he was able to get to the wall more efficiently."
"The whole technique thing," Jake Kocsis said, "comes down to what you've learned thus far and it becomes second nature."
Williams, Ben Kocsis and Bonino also explained about how they drill for relay scenarios. In all cases, they agreed that the kick was central.
"[Jake Kocsis] has a very solid, fast kick," Kubicek said. "His legs will feel like bricks due to muscle fatigue and oxygen deprivation, but the legs are crucial."
Williams is usually the relay's first swimmer.
"I think 'Keep going, keep kicking, get them that lead ...'" he said.
The foursome also noted that technique was important for starts, too.
"It takes a lot of experience to know when exactly to push off the block," said Bonino, who often swims second. "You just have to see how fast the other swimmer is coming in -- you just have to know when to start.
"I usually form a triangle with my hands and put the triangle over the black 'T' on the bottom of the pool. Whenever the other swimmer passes that, I jump forward."
Jake Kocsis elaborated: "When you're up on the block, you have to spin your arms at the right time. I have a set point in the pool [for the incoming swimmer to pass] when I start swinging my arms back and take a step forward."
This year, Hampton competes in Section 2-AAA. The team is not listed as a Class AA team swimming in a Class AAA section, however, as it was last year. Hampton will compete in Class AAA for WPIALs this year. But Kubicek is confident.
"It's great to see four men rise up to any occasion," he said. "They're upholding our standards and showing this is a good program and a good team."