Swimming: Hinely, older, stronger, better-focused

Nicole Hinley doesn’t let anything stop her.

Not race, not height — and definitely not her past performances.

After all, the regular season isn’t even finished, and the South Kitsap junior already is focusing on her third state appearance in as many years.

“I’m working on my 100 fly and I’m also working on my 200 free as a follow-up from last season,” she said. “The 200 free was kind of a surprise swim for me last season, but it ended up going well.

“I got both of my state cuts in the 100 fly and 200 free, so I decided at the beginning of the season that those were going to be my two races.”

Last year, Hinley had the Wolves’ best individual showing at the King County Aquatic Center, placing 10th in the butterfly (58.12 seconds) and 11th in the 200-yard freestyle (1 minute, 56.33 seconds), but feels that she can improve upon those times on Nov. 12-13.

“I think this year I’m in better condition than this time last year,” she said. “I got both state cuts my first meet and I’ve never done that before. That made my season ease by a little bit more.”

And coach Cliff Rousell sees it being a fairly easy road to Federal Way.

“We’re just beginning to enter the taper faze,” he said of Hinley, who he calls a leader during practices. “I’m very confident about the training she has done.”

Calling her showing in the 2009 consolation finals of the butterfly “extremely strong,” Rousell also noted that Hinley is in better physical condition and has improved her technique this year.

“I expect to see her in the finals this year,” he said, adding that the competition is strong. “She’s better prepared physically and mentally than she has been the last couple of years.”

For Hinley, it starts with a focus on what she can do instead of what she can’t change.

Standing at 5 feet, 3 1/2 inches since her freshman year, she feels is at a disadvantage, but “I don’t let it get me down. It’s just another reason to push myself more.”

She also sees her genetics as a unique element on the starting blocks.

“You don’t see many African Americans swimming,” said Hinley, whose mom is white and dad is black.

She added that the 2007 movie “Pride,” which deals with racism in swimming in the 1970s, had an impact on her.

“I think a little bit just because I’m in that situation with my ethnicity,” she said. “People look at (the main character) like she doesn’t have as much talent in this sport as others may. But I still ... have high expectations.”

Hinley named Cullen Jones, who competed as the third leg on the United States’ world-record setting 400-freestyle relay team at the 2008 Summer Olympics, as her favorite swimmer.

“That’s really cool that we can have an African American representing for us that really stands out,” she said. “It’s an inspiration — it makes me want to stand out for the rest of us.”

Her drive also extends to the classroom, where Hinley maintains a 3.9 grade-point average — something she largely attributes to her parents’ support — and has aspirations of studying business or communication in college.

And, of course, continue swimming.

Because of that, Hinley, who favors Boise State and Washington State and said the amount of scholarship money offered will be a significant factor in her decision, knows that makes this year “super important.”

But Rousell has no concerns that his pupil will be competing at the next level.

“Without a doubt,” he said. “Just watching what she can do, when she puts her mind to things ... She can compete at the Division-I level.”

Rousell, whose daughter Madison was a four-time state champion for the Wolves and now is a senior at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has watched Hinley progress and develop in and out of the pool for about 10 years.

“There’s something special about the way she pushes herself,” he said. “It’s a reason why she always achieves championship results.”

It’s something Hinley is hoping for at state — and not just for herself.

“Pretty much my whole relay team is going to be graduating, so this is our last year to get another time in there,” she said.

While the 200- and 400-freestyle relays, comprised of herself, Kelsey Bagley-Hall, Ashlee Becker and Paige Pearsall, have yet to qualify, she is ready for the challenge after finishing sixth in the 200 freestyle relay last year in 1:42.06.

“The times that people were putting up on the board were incredible,” Hinely said.

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