Kylie Kastes has only been on the job as Newman’s swim coach for a few weeks, but whenever she’s around the pool these days, she knows exactly who people will ask her about — Jared Williams.
It’s easy to see why Williams has captured the attention of swimming fans from Sulphur to Slidell. The chiseled senior was the Division IV MVP in the Louisiana State High School Championships last fall. He won two events in the meet (the 100-yard breaststroke in 1:00.19 and the 100-yard butterfly in 50.10.) In the prep championship prelims, he set a division record in the butterfly (50.02), which was good enough for a U.S. Junior National cut. His performance helped lead the Greenies to their third consecutive boys state title.
Those accomplishments are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg for Williams, and they are a reason Newman is considered among the favorites to win a state title in November, despite personnel losses that might cripple lesser programs.
Kastes, who was an assistant at Newman last season, said Williams’ versatility could be his greatest asset. He has offers to visit George Mason, LSU, Georgia Tech and Florida, among other schools.
“I really do (think Jared is a special swimmer,”) she said. “He can use some work maybe endurance-wise, being able to swim all the events. Luckily, he can do that in this style of swimming.
“He’s very good at breast, free, fly. We can plug him anywhere. We just have to figure where we can plug him in to score the greatest amount of points.”
As Kastes admitted, there will be some holes to fill on the boys side this season. Gone to graduation is Harry Browne — Newman’s captain and a two-time state champion last year in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle.
Gone are other key swimmers (Foppe Koper and Tarik Anwar, among them) who helped the Greenies edge Episcopal 391-301 last season at state.
The cupboard is far from bare, however. Alongside Williams will be junior Donovan Bendana who won the 200-yard IM at state last year.
Kastes also pointed to a trio of youngsters (eighth-grader Aidan Thionville, seventh-grader Ross Jacobson, and sixth-grader Pierce Thionville) as potential keys to Newman’s success this season.
All of them look to Williams for leadership, Kastes said. She said there’s a quiet intensity about her star swimmer; a trait she said might have come from training at the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida (where she also swam.)
“We’re on the same page,” Kastes said. “Like (his coach Jacque Millican at NuWave) it’s the same sort of mentality. Jared has made great strides. He has a junior national cut in the 50 free now. He never says no.”
Williams said he noticed a big difference in the swimming scene when he moved to Louisiana from Florida before his junior season.
“You go from being in the middle of the crowd and now, you’re a big fish in a small pond,” he said. “It has pros and cons. The pros are you get a whole lot of attention, and you get some opportunities you didn’t have a chance at before. The cons are you may not be ready to take on (the responsibilities.)
“Sometimes when you’re in the spotlight and all eyes are on you, you have to adjust and that forces you to grow up a lot. Plus, the competition is still really tough.”
Williams seems at ease with the transition.
“Over the course of the past two years, so much has changed,” he said. “When I first came in, I was getting adjusted, getting used to a new coach. I was playing with things during the season, to see what worked and what didn’t.
“Now, I guess I’m settled in. I’ve found what works. It’s time to stick with it, to focus, and to have a good season.”
Bendana said he knows Newman will be looking to him and Williams to anchor relays and score chunks of points this season. He said it’ll take the entire team to clinch the boys fourth consecutive state title, however.
“We don’t just need fast kids,” he said. “We need a whole team. You can’t win with just a couple of fast kids.”
“Pretty much everybody on this team can step up and fill a (scoring) role,” she said. “It’s just a matter of who’s going to do it. … But we’re confident. This is such a stable program. Everyone’s on the same page, and no one starts from ground zero.”