Molli Hartzell lifted by big district meet


Of the News-Register

What can McMinnville’s Molli Hartzell accomplish in the pool?

Whatever she puts her mind to.

Hartzell’s workload for the Class 6A Greater Valley Conference Championships, held Feb. 13-14 at the McMinnville Aquatic Center, was heavy – two individual races and two relay legs. The junior was a known quantity, having qualified for two individual events at the OSAA Class 6A state championships, competing against other known quantities with longer track records.

“She is just not afraid,” said Murlio Martins, an assistant coach for the Grizzlies and Hartzell’s coach at McMinnville Swim Club. “Three of the four races she did, she was racing against national (-caliber) racers from Salem. When that happens, I was a little concerned. I didn’t know how she was going to respond.

“She was just natural about it. She put pressure on the other person.”

Hartzell turned in the best meet of her high school career in response to the GVC competition. She set a lifetime bests in the 100-yard backstroke (59.04 seconds, the winning time by more than two seconds) and the 100-yard freestyle (54.92, second place). Her 50-yard backstroke split in the Grizzlies’ 200-yard medley relay (28.19 seconds) was also a personal record; McMinnville took second place in the relay with a posted time of 1:52.87.

The weakest of Hartzell’s events on the weekend, her leg of the 200-yard freestyle relay, was still good enough to help McMinnville qualify for state in second place (1:42.91). Hartzell’s split time was 25.37 seconds.

“It’s a lot about the mind,” she said. “I can’t be hesitant about it. If I get tired, I tell myself I’m tired.”

Her sense of urgency, particularly in the backstroke – her signature event – could portend great things at the Class 6A state championships, held today and tomorrow at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.

A year-round swimmer who competes for McMinnville Swim Club, Hartzell first attempted the backstroke during the Mac High swimming season, as a freshman. “It just clicked,” she said. “It’s a mystery.”

The backstroke, according to Grizzlies head coach Jason Hafner, is less popular at the high school level due to its fundamental nature – backstrokers cannot easily gauge their place in the middle of a race. The spatial relationship between the swimmer and the lane requires heightened senses.

“It is one of those strokes that’s not always a favorite,” Hafner said. “It’s a very leg-dominated stroke. To do a good race, you have to really utilize your legs. It takes a lot out of you.”

“She’s a natural. Nice and flat in the water,” Martins said of Hartzell. “She’s a perfectionist and she works really hard.”

In Hartzell’s view, her best event in the pool is one that is not contested in Oregon high schools – the 200-yard or -meter backstroke. Hartzell holds the McMinnville Swim Club’s girls’ 15-18 age group record in that event, clocking 2:31.10 in a meet in 2014. The 200 back requires a different race plan than the 100 back; Martins and Hafner have exhorted Hartzell to start her high school races at a faster pace, and not to rely on her developed kick at the end of races.

“I’ve got to take it out fast,” Hartzell said. “It’s better if I have someone to race to push myself. At the same time, I know what my 80 percent is, my 100 percent.”

As with many club swimmers, high school swimming is a team sport, and Hartzell values that experience. (“It really helps that the team is so big,” she said. “There’s a lot of cheering.”) This season, one of Hartzell’s teammates was her sister, Judith, a McMinnville freshman. Judith, one of Molli’s two adopted siblings from the Caribbean nation of Haiti, is a neophyte when compared to Big Sis, who revels in watching her progress.

“In Haiti, she had never had her body fully submerged in water before,” Molli Hartzell explained. “She’s come so far. It’s amazing to see what she’s done.”