Jake Stephens lauded his decision to switch clubs after being the best of the Hawke's Bay swimmers at the national secondary school championships for the second consecutive year.
"You will notice I did less events than last year. I'm focusing more on my main events now as Willy is big on the long-term game and focuses on quality not quantity," Stephens said, referring to Olympian Willy Benson at the Heretaunga Sundevils club who has coached Stephens for the past year.
"There's less risk of burning out, a big emphasis on perfecting technique and it's way better," Stephens said.
The 14-year-old Lindisfarne College Year 10 student won two gold medals and a bronze from his six events entered at the four-day Hamilton-hosted nationals which ended on Sunday. He won gold in his 200 metres backstroke final with a personal best time of 2m12s, gold in his 100 metres backstroke final with a personal best time of 1m.054s and bronze in his 50 metres backstroke final.
A powerful final 25 metres was the key to his success in his 100m final. Stephens conceded the lead on a couple of occasions in his 200m final but a burst off the final turn propelled him to victory.
"Jake displayed plenty of guts to win the 200," was the text from teacher in charge Murray Smith to Stephens proud mother Karrie Stephens.
"I was so pleased to get the 200 for Mr Smith, Willy and Mum. On some days Mum can spend three hours driving me to and from trainings so that made it completely worth it for her," Stephens explained.
At last year's Wellington-hosted national secondary school championships the then Napier Aquahawks club swimmer, Stephens, competed in eight events and won eight medals, five of them gold.
"It's pretty cool to be the best of the Hawke's Bay swimmers at the national schools for the second consecutive year," Stephens remarked.
His supporters had an inkling Stephens would do well after recording seven firsts and a second at the Aquaknights short course championships in Rotorua three weeks earlier. He won his 100 metres individual medley, backstroke and fly finals, his 200 metres individual medley and fly finals, his 50 metre fly and backstroke finals and finished second in his 50 metre freestyle final.
Stephens will tackle six events at the New Zealand short course championships in Auckland from October 1-5. They are the 100 and 200m backstroke events for which he ranked first in the country in his age group, the 100m fly and individual medley and 50m fly and backstroke.
"I'm hoping for top three finishes in most of them. I'm ranked fourth in the country for the 100m fly and I'll be aiming to improve that time," Stephens said.
He boasts a time of 1m01s for the 100m fly and 1m06s for the 100m individual medley. Despite his successes Stephens has plenty of work ons.
"They're aimed at perfecting technique with my turns. I also need to keep my head down more during my fly events and head back more during my backstroke races," Stephens explained.
He has set the national open championships in 2021 and the 2023 junior world championships as his long-term goals. Stephens also intends to attend university when he leaves school but he has yet to decide where and what he will study.
Should Stephens qualify for the junior worlds there's a big chance media at the venue will highlight his early struggles with swimming pools should he feature among the medal winners. For those who have forgotten or may not have heard, going near a pool was a nightmare for Stephens when he was four.
He hated it but his mother made him take lessons to learn how to swim and it took eight weeks and endless streams of tears before he gave in to Napier-based instructor Bev Mitchell.
Stephens was one of three Hawke's Bay swimmers, all 14-year-olds, to podium in Hamilton. Napier Girls' High School's Arabella Smith, who is coached by Phil Melhuish at the Napier Aquahawks club, won silver in her 400 metres freestyle final.
Taradale High School's Caleb Carlisle, who is coached by Gary Knight at the Greendale club, won bronze in his 400 metres freestyle final. Like Stephens, Smith and Carlisle, will also compete in Auckland.