Two former Crimson Bear swimmers who already have their names all over the Alaska prep records books are re-writing the book at their new school, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Freshman Amber Kelly and sophomore Jenna Rutecki, both members of the JDHS class of 2008, are already making their mark at UALR, a Division I program in the Sunbelt Conference.
Kelly and Rutecki, now roommates who were recently home for the holidays, were freshmen on the JDHS state runner-up girls' swim team that lost by just a single point in 2004 before taking ownership of the state meet with landslide wins over the next three years.
Rutecki set two individual school records and was a member of three other record-setting relay teams as a freshman last year for the Trojans. She now owns the 100-yard backstroke (1:00.01) and 200 back (2:09.95) school records, as well the 200-yard medley relay (1:51.49), the 400 medley relay (4:06.55) and 400 freestyle relay (3:37.85) times.
After taking a year off from school, Kelly got back in the pool and recently broke the 100 fly school record with a time of 58.45 seconds, smashing the 14-year-old previous best (59.24) by more than three-quarters of a second.
"It was nice, but I'm just hoping to get faster and keep breaking my old record again," Kelly said. "I almost had it at the previous meet, and I was really excited that I got so close to it because I wanted it so bad.
"I was really excited after I finished it."
Kelly, a health science major, said she was glad to be back swimming competitively again.
"I decided to take a year off last year, so I didn't think I would be swimming again," she said. "I stayed with swimming. I just worked and swam because I couldn't figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I went to a meet and did really well, and that's what made me think about going back to school was how much better my swimming got by just training with our old coach, Scott Griffith, here.
"It was really nice to have the opportunity to get a second chance at starting over."
Rutecki, who thought about majoring in pre-med but is now undecided, said her choice of UALR - which is about 3,500 miles away by car - was a "last-minute" decision.
"I really didn't know where I wanted to go. I just weighed my options," she said. "I didn't want to be the fastest on a team, but I also wanted to go somewhere that I could help my parents with the cost of college. Going there, it had the classes I wanted to take, and there's a med school and a law school right outside the main campus.
"And where we live is really nice," she continued. "You won't find nicer accommodations for freshmen students anywhere. And I really like the coach. They were OK with the fact that I only swam about two months out of the year because I did all the other sports here in Juneau. They took that as a positive and said that I had a lot of potential, where other schools looked at it as a negative."
Both said the biggest adjustment has been the culture shock of going from the secluded confines of Southeast Alaska to the wide-open capital city of Arkansas, which has a population of about 190,000 people.
"The people are almost as friendly as here, and meeting new people and trying to understand what some of them are saying - their accents are a little (different)," Kelly chuckled. "It's kind of a culture shock compared to up here. Everyone here kind of knows each other. There, everyone's in a rush and not as laid back."
"It's huge. It's really big," Rutecki said of Little Rock. "I've only lived in Juneau, so it's the biggest place I've ever lived."
Both said the season has gone well for their team and they are bonding more, though Rutecki has had problems battling pneumonia, bronchitis and a kidneyinfection.
"I think our team really became a team at the most recent meet," Kelly said. "We all had fun and we got along. Everyone really cheered for each for other.
UALR coach Amy Burgess called the Juneauites "diamonds in the rough" with a high ceiling forimprovement.
"They have a lot of potential, and their club coach did a great job as far as stroke technique," she said. "They both come from a background where they haven't really trained year-round or been real serious with swimming, so I see a lot of potential for growth. I was really excited about Jenna last year, and then to get Amber, too, who has a little bit more of a training background than Jenna.
"I'm excited to see what both of them can do in the next few years."
Editor's note: There are four other girls from the JDHS class of 2008 currently swimming in college: Melissa Bogert, Washington State; Sara Bogert, Purdue; Kristen Jones, Northern Arizona; and Koko Urata, Stanford.
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