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Pool Power: Hartland Teen Sets Record on Way to National Meet

  • Hannah Cox, 15, smiles as she comes up for air while floating on her back for a portrait at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., on July 30, 2013. Cox recently beat a New England 200-meter freestyle record set by an Olympian swimmer. (Valley News — Elijah Nouvelage)

    Hannah Cox, 15, smiles as she comes up for air while floating on her back for a portrait at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., on July 30, 2013. Cox recently beat a New England 200-meter freestyle record set by an Olympian swimmer. (Valley News — Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hannah Cox, 15, swims the backstroke as part of a 200-meter individual medly practice at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., on July 30, 2013. (Valley News — Elijah Nouvelage)

    Hannah Cox, 15, swims the backstroke as part of a 200-meter individual medly practice at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., on July 30, 2013. (Valley News — Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hannah Cox, 15, poses for a portrait in the pool at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt. on July 30, 2013. Cox recently beat a New England 200-meter freestyle record set by an Olympian swimmer. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Hannah Cox, 15, poses for a portrait in the pool at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt. on July 30, 2013. Cox recently beat a New England 200-meter freestyle record set by an Olympian swimmer. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hannah Cox, 15, smiles as she comes up for air while floating on her back for a portrait at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., on July 30, 2013. Cox recently beat a New England 200-meter freestyle record set by an Olympian swimmer. (Valley News — Elijah Nouvelage)
  • Hannah Cox, 15, swims the backstroke as part of a 200-meter individual medly practice at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., on July 30, 2013. (Valley News — Elijah Nouvelage)
  • Hannah Cox, 15, poses for a portrait in the pool at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt. on July 30, 2013. Cox recently beat a New England 200-meter freestyle record set by an Olympian swimmer. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

White River Junction — Talk to Upper Valley Aquatic Club coach Dorsi Raynolds about protege Hannah Cox, and it’s only a matter of time before goose bumps begin popping up on her arms.

Cox’s ascension in the pool has come almost just as quickly.

One year after taking up swimming as a full-time sport, Cox, 15, is heading to next week’s United States Junior Nationals in California after she qualified for five events in the open (15 and over) age group.

Having improved her times dramatically since last summer in all five races — the 200-meter freestyle, 400 free, 800 free, 200 individual medley and 400 IM — Cox’s rise has been especially pronounced in the 200 free.

After clocking in at 2 minutes, 13.35 seconds during her best performance in the event a year ago, increased training and commitment over the last 12 months helped her lower it to 2:03.86 at the recent New England Swimming Senior Championships at Brown University.

After qualifying for the final at Brown on July 20 with what was already a personal-best 2:05 during the preliminary round, Cox’ performance in the 200 free final broke a 13-year-old meet record in the event, previously held by Samantha Arsenault of Peabody, Mass. Arsenault won the event at the meet in 2000 with a then-record time of 2:04.20 before going on to win a gold medal in the 800 free at the 2000 Summer Olympics.

“I had no idea (I was approaching Arsenault’s record)” Cox, of Hartland, recalled prior to a recent swim at UVAC. “I just wanted to do my best (in the final) and have fun. Then (the public address announcer) read over the speaker that I broke the record. It was pretty exciting.”

Like most careful coaches, Raynolds didn’t tell her pupil how close she was to the milestone for fear of disrupting her focus. Not that the Kimball Union Academy sophomore-to-be has been anything but mature and level-headed.

After a winter season highlighted by a strong effort in the 200 at the New England Senior Championships at Boston University — less than a half-second shy of two-time Olympian Elizabeth Beisel’s regional mark — Cox entered the spring season with renewed vigor.

Raynolds responded by tapering Cox’ dry-land exercises in favor of more time in the pool. Instead of swimming one morning and one afternoon session of 4,000 yards apiece, Cox’ regimen increased to a pair of 5,000-meter swims per day. Cox proved more than up to the task.

“She just has an unbelievable work ethic, which mixes very well with her God-given ability,” said Raynolds, a former all-American swimmer at Ithaca College who went on to coach at the University at Buffalo and Northern Michigan University. “She came in this spring deciding that she wanted to work hard. We still did some of the dry-land training, such as medicine-ball and TRK work and Plyometrics, but for not as long of a time because we wanted her in the pool more. For elite swimmers, increasing (distance intervals) over months at a time can have a real impact, and Hannah is a special swimmer. She has an amazing VO 2 max, which is basically the average amount of oxygen she gets to her muscles.”

The youngest of five siblings, Cox admits she may have initially been driven by a desire to keep up with her older brothers and sisters. They all swam with a team organized at the Woodstock Recreation Center, where she first began swimming at age 11.

She might have even derived some of the swimmer’s genes from her mother, Karen, who grew up swimming daily during the warm months on Lake George in New York’s Adirondacks.

“I think it mostly comes from the fact that she wanted to keep up with her brothers,” said Karen Cox, who works at UVAC as a swimming instructor and marketing assistant. “She’s just always loved it, ever since she first got in the pool.”

The national meet begins Monday in Irvine, Calif., where Cox will be joined by teammate Kersten Dirrane, of Rumney, N.H. Dirrane qualified in the 100- and 200 breaststroke.

“I’m really excited to travel to California. I’ve only ever been on the East Coast,” said Cox. “As far as goals, it’s my first time in a national competition so I’m mostly looking forward to seeing what it’s like and seeing what happens (in the pool).”

Cox’ goals may not stay so modest for much longer. While Raynolds is wary of getting carried away, she knows she may have a special talent in Cox. The coach compares Cox to Ellie Thompson, a two-time Junior Nationals qualifier and 2012 Lebanon High graduate now swimming for four-time reigning NCAA Division III champion Emory University.

“Cox and Dirrane have really taken the torch from Ellie at UVAC as far as their talent and their dedication to swimming,” Raynolds said. “(Cox has) already swum a 2:03.86 and the cutoff for the 2012 Olympic trials (in the 200) was 2:03.1. I think her future is incredibly bright.”

It’s enough to give a coach goose bumps.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.