By Eric Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Justin Sagasta can remember pretty clearly how he got started in competitive swimming.
He was six years old, and he enjoyed watching his friends swim with a local club team.
This led to a family debate amongst the Sagastas on the merits of getting a swimming pool in their back yard.
“My mom wanted to get a swimming pool, and my dad said only if the kids learn how to swim,” Sagasta said.
Justin sure did learn.
Now a 16-year-old junior at Kenmore West High School and a standout on the Blue Devils swim team, Sagasta has emerged as one of the top swimmers in the Niagara Frontier League.
“He can swim anything and everything for us – wherever we need him,” West swim coach Kristin Pucser said. “We can put him in any event, depending on where we need him and what the other teams have. He’s a great asset.”
While Sagasta can swim just about any event, he is typically used in some combination of the 200 and 500 freestyle races, the 100 breaststroke and on the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.
He usually goes up against the toughest competition he can get in any individual meet – which he says pushes him to do even better.
Sagasta says that mental preparation is critical.
“I try to visualize the race before I swim it,” he said. “There are some pretty good swimmers in this league, and they can really push me.”
Last year, Sagasta went to sectionals and finished fifth in both the 200 and 500. Now a year older, wiser and stronger, his sights are set even higher this season.
“We want him to go to states in the 500,” Pucser said. “I think that’s a realistic goal – he’s just a few seconds away from that right now.”
The qualifying time for the state championship in the 500, according to the league’s handbook, is 4:52.52. Sagasta’s current best time is about six seconds off of that mark.
That may not sound like a lot – but the closer he gets to the so-called magic time, the harder it is to achieve.
“I used to go as hard as I could in the beginning of a race, and then I always died at the end and had to hang on,” Sagasta said. “This year, I’ve been working a lot on pacing myself – and that’s really helped my times.”
He also has been paying careful attention to the little details that can turn a very good swim into a great one – like focusing on his breathing, his turns and on not crossing over in his stroke.
He’s also put in a lot of practice time, both in the pool and in the weight room.
“There’s always room for improvement, and he’s always very good at implementing our feedback,” said Pucser, herself a West alum and former swimmer. “He’s always ready to work and he provides a good example of what you should be doing in order to be successful.”