Jensen Keck wasn’t sure if she’d reached her year-long goal of qualifying for the state meet for a few seconds after she touched the wall in the 100-yard breaststroke at the St. Charles North Sectional last weekend.
The DeKalb-Sycamore co-op freshman knew she had a shot at the state qualifying time of 1:08.22 when she touched the wall halfway through the race in 35 seconds, using the stroke she perfected with hours of hard work over the summer with former DeKalb swimmer Grace Waller.
But the delay on the scoreboard – estimated at 10 or 15 seconds – was agonizing.
“All of our eyes were just glued to the scoreboard,” coach Leah Eames said.
After the long wait, Keck’s time of 1:07.81 flashed on the scoreboard and became the first DeKalb freshman since Waller to qualify for the state meet. She dropped her personal best by almost three seconds.
“I screamed so loud and I threw my hands up and I was just so excited,” she said. “That was my main goal, to qualify for state, and it was so nerve-wracking.”
The stroke that will be on display in Evanston today was crafted over the summer, when she worked a few times a week with Waller, now a swimmer at Oakland University in Michigan. Breaststroke was Waller’s forte early in her high school career, before she was diagnosed with cancer and had six inches of her femur removed, and the pair worked on lengthening and strengthening each stroke
“All I can tell you is that Grace Waller just changed everything for me,” Keck said. “We kept working on it and working on it, and I got the state time. I owe it to her, really.”
That work ethic carried over to the season, and Eames praised her for being one of her team’s hardest workers.
“Three seconds is an awful lot of time to drop, especially when you’re down on the level where she was,” Eames said. “The amount of time drop was definitely a surprise. But just looking back to what she put into this season, it definitely is a little bit easier to understand how she could do that.”
In the sectional meet, she swam the 500 freestyle less than 45 minutes before the 100 breast stroke. Another healthy drop in time wouldn’t be surprising today, when she’ll only have the 100 breast to worry about.
“Now, I just want to drop more and more time,” Keck said. “The 500 is such a hard swim, and every swim I swim, I give it my full, total effort. I feel like without that before and being exhausted after it, I think I’ll be better.”