Julie Gibson and Emily Giarrizzo could be the first-ever Payson athletes to earn collegiate swimming scholarships.
At least that’s the opinion of their aquatic coach Sharon Strople who has watched the two young girls take on, and often defeat, Valley-area swimmers clutching the advantage of much better year-round training amenities.
“Training facilities in Payson are weak at best, with no regulation pool for all-year training,” Strople said. “The pool (at the Tonto Apache recreation center) they train in is five yards short (of regulation), has no lane lines, pool markings or starting blocks.”
She then takes a good-natured swipe at herself, saying, “They have an amateur coach and no team to bond with.”
Strople’s best hope, she says, is that training facilities in town improve to aid the girls in their development.
If that should happen, “Both Emily and Julie are on track for college swimming scholarships.”
Despite the training hardships, Julie, 13, and Emily, 10, often shine in Valley-area meets as evidenced by both qualifying for the Arizona Short Course State Championships to be held tomorrow, March 6, at Brophy High School in Phoenix.
Julie has qualified in the 50-yard freestyle and Emily qualified in the 50-yard freestyle and the 50-yard breaststroke.
The girls tuned up for the state championships Feb. 20-21 at the USA Swim Eastern Regional meet held at Scottsdale Aquatic Club.
There, Gibson was third in the 50-yard freestyle and Emily won the 50-yard breaststroke. She was also third in the 50-yard freestyle.
“They both had to reach minimum qualifying times for their age groups to participate in both the regional and state meets,” said Chris Giarrizzo, Emily’s mother.
In preparation for the meets, the two youths train at 5:30 a.m. each weekday in rigorous hour-plus sessions.
“They never complain or have trouble getting there,” Strophe said. “Both continue to amaze me by setting personal records every time they swim.”
The coach lauds Giarrizzo as “tough as nails with a competitive drive of a very mature swimmer.”
She also predicts the diminutive swimmer will, “probably be the smallest one on the blocks (at state), but the bigger girls do not intimidate her and she believes in herself and ability to swim fast.”
At 13 years of age, Gibson is one of the younger and smaller girls in her age group.
This is her first year training (year-round) and she has only begun to discover her speed, dropping more than 12 seconds in her 100 freestyle times in only six months.
The coach also calls Gibson’s butterfly, “a beautiful strong stroke that is fun to watch.”
While swimming is currently a point of emphasis for the two girls, Strople is quick to point out that both also compete in other sports and are honor roll students at their schools.
During the summer months, when Taylor Pool is open, both girls are members of the Payson Pikes swim team and last year were high-point winners at several meets including the Verde Valley Invitational.