North Xtra: North Allegheny swimmer is a man with a plan
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North Allegheny junior Sam Rutan is a regular on PAswimming.com's lists of top times.
Most recently, he's been in the top 10 in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events. The secret to Rutan's success is race strategy.
Rutan employed his strategy against six teams at the Jan. 18 and 19 All-American Invitational in Wilkes-Barre. As he lined up to swim the 200 next to District 3 Hempfield's Denny Atkinson, Rutan prepared to save some acceleration for the race's back half.
"I got to see [Atkinson] the entire time," said Rutan.
He and Atkinson were the 200's front-runners in Wilkes-Barre's packed Catholic Youth Center. The two sped to the touch, but Atkinson beat Rutan by 0.1 second. Atkinson placed first in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:45.22, and Rutan was second at 1:45.32.
Rutan wanted to win the race, but he was happy with his time.
"My race strategy really came together," he said. "With the distance freestyle, you always need to go in with a different kind of plan. You need to go with what your strength is and play that in the best way you can."
"I'm more a back-half-of-the-race kind of person. I don't go as hard in the beginning so I can finish really strong."
Rutan trains for late-race acceleration using negative splits and descending sets.
He estimated that he spends about eight hours per week in distance training. That is out of an approximate 20-hour training week.
Rutan swam the 500-yard freestyle event in Wilkes-Barre, but he came in second to his teammate Zach Buerger. Nonetheless, Rutan's time was 4:47.50.
"I got my best times unshaven in both [the 200- and 500-yard] races," Rutan said about the meet in Wilkes-Barre.
His PAswimming.com times as of Jan. 24 were 1:44.34 in the 200- and 4:44.11 in the 500.
Although more than one-third of Rutan's training time is spent on distance and strategy, the remaining hours actually prepare him to swim any race at any time.
"I could jump in and swim any race if I have to ... I've swum every event this season," Rutan said.
Rutan has also obtained WPIAL qualifying times in every event except for one, the 100-yard breaststroke. He has it among his goals, however, to make the 100-breaststroke cut.
North Allegheny coach Kirk "Corky" Semler did not have much hope for Rutan's swimming early on.
"When I coached [Rutan] after eighth grade and before ninth, I didn't think he'd be a good swimmer," Semler said. "I just didn't think he had it. He was small, he was slow ... But in his ninth grade year his attitude really changed. He just couldn't get enough information. He worked on his technique, grew a little, and put on some muscle. There's no one on the team who works harder than he does."
Semler added that Rutan sets an example for the team.
"All of the seniors in the previous years and this year -- I feel like they've led this team so well," Rutan said. "We've become better because of them. I aspire to be like them in training and out of the pool."
First Published February 7, 2013 12:00 am