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Natalie Miller is Elizabethtown’s anchor.
Emotionally and literally.
Quiet, calm and one strong freestyler, coach Mavi Sampaio counts on the Lady Panthers senior with bringing two of the team’s three relays home.
She’s one of his top four swimmers. She listens. She’s passionate. And they trust each other. That’s the most important aspect when you’re the closer.
“She has always been a good relay swimmer. Some people swim better when they are in a team thing and other people depend on your results and your swimming and your performance. That’s what relays are all about. You’re not swimming for only yourself, you’re swimming for three others, too. If you don’t do well, if you swim slow or do bad, the other three will feel that, too,” Sampaio said. “She has always been a good relay swimmer. She likes doing the relays. And they’ve done well for her.”
This season, she and her teammates have delivered.
In four meets, Miller has swam on five winning relays (200 medley twice, 200 free twice and 100 free once) and two runner-ups. In the Nov. 17 Elizabethtown Invitational, she teamed with senior Ashley Hartlage, freshman Shelby Joy and seventh-grader Savannah Kingery to take the 200 free in 1:53.21 – 13.04 seconds ahead of Meade County.
Two weeks later, she finished off two more – teaming with sophomore Manuela Sampaio, freshman Madeline Rich and Kingery to win the 200 medley in 2:00.21 and the 200 free with Manuela Sampaio, freshman Marianna Godfrey and Joy in 1:49.60 – edging out the Elizabethtown B relay by .57 seconds.
In the Shelbyville Holiday Classic Sprints on Dec. 8, Miller brought home two more relay titles, as she, Godfrey, Manuela Sampaio and Mariana Sampaio won the 200 medley in 1:57.58 (more than 13 seconds ahead of Meade County) and she, Rich, Godfrey and junior Mary-Charlotte Pepper took the 100 free in 50.81 seconds.
She’s also had a handful of top-three finishes in her 50 and 100 free individual races, including a runner-up finish (27.37 seconds) in the Shelbyville meet, where she was just .25 seconds behind Pepper.
Miller loves that 200 medley relay, though. With all four strokes involved and a tight race, especially against Woodford County when the Region 3 Swimming and Diving Championships roll around in February, it makes it interesting.
“Woodford County they have good other swimmers, but I’d always like (former Elizabethtown swimmer and current University of Louisville freshman) Emma (Coakley) going right before me because she was a really good butterflyer. So she got me ahead and it kind of took the pressure off, but I still, like, I can’t let them down. But with Manuela, she’s a good breaststroker, so she gets us up, too. I know Mariana is really good at butterfly now. And then our backstroker, it could be Marianna or whoever, but they’re all really good,” Miller said. “I like it just because it gets you really excited I guess as a team. It’s really close actually. Woodford County last year, they were within two or three seconds, I think. So it’s close and it’s just good to see the team come together.”
It’s all about trust.
Mavi Sampaio has patiently helped Miller improve over the past four years.
He’s given her, and other swimmers, tips on how to breathe less and worked relentlessly with Miller on her turns – two of the most important aspects in sprint events. She’s even started to lift weights in order to increase her strength and pull more water. She’s made significant improvements.
“Before Mavi came here, I did a dive and I’d go too deep, he said. So then I don’t have fast underwater for kicking, so I would lose a lot of time there and a person would out-touch me because of it. But I learned to dive shallow and come up straight without any kicking, so that way I’m fast on top of the water, so by the time were down here, I’m flipping way before the other girls. And then the turn, you can’t have a slow flip turn and you have to push hard off the wall and come straight back up,” Miller said. “Then I’ve trained myself to only breathe once a 50. I was breathing about three times before.”
When Miller took the summer off because she needed a break from swimming, Mavi Sampaio understood. Six months later, she returned to the pool – and he’s back to helping her start to return to form, no questions asked.
“(With) relays it’s always our best four. It doesn’t matter who you are. I’ve got to put the best four that I have. And every time that she was there was because she was one of our best four,” Mavi Sampaio said. “Plus I trust her. I trust her that she will do a good job.”
That break helped Miller realize she missed the team camaraderie and the water. She missed the bonds and swimming together for a goal. And she realized she needed to take the sport seriously if she plans on swimming in college, hopefully at NAIA Lindsey Wilson College.
“This year you really have to say well if I’m going to school for it I really have to love it. So you have to really train hard in the water. And it’s going to pay off,” Miller said. “Winning regions last year it really paid off. But not much has changed. I guess just that I’m finally realizing this is what I want to do for the next four years, so I really have to put in the work for it.”
John Groth can be reached at (270) 505-1754 or firstname.lastname@example.org.