By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
At the start of the winter sports season, Taylor Campbell put his basketball shoes back into their boxes and pulled out a speedo and swimming goggles instead.
The junior at Fairmont Senior went from being a simple role player on the basketball squad as a sophomore to taking the express lane to the swimming pool. And he’s doing it with ease, despite not having swum since his childhood.
“My last swimming experience was probably when I was 12, doing it on a local summer team and I had some success with that. But other than that, basketball's always been my main sport up until this year,” Campbell said.
The first-year swimmer explained that this past summer he spent time working at the Fairmont Field Club. While there he became close with a member of Fairmont State’s swim team, who shepherded him into swimming this season.
Now that the summer sun has been replaced by frost and snowflakes, Campbell has taken to the pool for the winter.
“I just decided to give it a try and see if I liked it or not. I was all right as a kid and I had some success over the summer,” Campbell said of his choice to forgo basketball. “He said if I stuck with it, it could give me the best opportunity to get a college scholarship so I decided to go for it. It's turned out well so far.”
The lords of the pool have indeed smiled upon Campbell thus far, proving that the junior goes with a pool like peanut butter goes with jelly.
In the team’s first meet of the season on Nov. 24, Campbell won first place in the 200-yard medley relay, 200-yard freestyle relay, 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly.
Campbell followed that up with another stellar performance at the team’s second meet on Dec. 7, when he took home more gold and silver finishes, winning the 50-yard freestyle and the 200-yard freestyle relay while taking second in the 200-yard medley relay and the 100-yard butterfly freestyle.
In the individual races, Campbell says it’s easy to stay focused because you have to think only about your own performance.
“Individually, I think it's all on you. You don't have to worry about anyone except yourself,” Campbell explained. “For me, it always helps me keep my composure, not having to worry about my team, but just relying on the work that I've put in and knowing it'll pay off. It just comes down to me.”
Rather than swan dives or dashing up to the high dive, Campbell’s two favorite races are the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle races — both are individual races.
“I'm kind of working on developing my fly, but I usually like to stick with the sprints,” he said.”
Besides swimming as an individual, when the lights are on and the gun sounds, it’s all about your team.
Relays are a very important part of a team’s success, and Campbell and his teammates have excelled greatly when called upon, posting first or second in both the 200-yard medley relay and 200-yard freestyle relay both times out.
Campbell’s role on those relay teams varies, but he knows that he must do his part when his teammate tags him. Sometimes he’ll swim as the second member but other times he closes out as the anchor.
“As the anchor you know how well your team is doing up until that point. You can kind of almost judge how fast you need to go and can see if you can get close or if you see your team is falling behind it can give you some extra motivation to go quicker,” Campbell said. “Usually I'll end up with my best times as anchor.”
Being the anchor, though, comes with added pressure. But Campbell said his teammates trust him in that position.
“I think they put a lot of trust in me,” said Campbell. “They always ask me for advice about what they should do. I think they really trust me because of my past experience working with the head coach at Fairmont State on knowing what to do in each situation. They do put a lot of trust in me for being a first-year swimmer.”
Even with the team’s added pressure, Campbell said he doesn’t try to put much on himself, making sure he’s at peace with the upcoming race rather than freezing up at the starting platform.
“I try not to think about the other people in the race. I just try to worry about my team and just think about improving our times and my time individually,” the junior said. “So I try not to put too much pressure on myself so I can stay loose but just enough to where I can be focused and be ready to go.”
But being in the water isn’t the only pressure a high school athlete coming into their first season with a new team faces.
Campbell also had to get used to the team dynamics on a swim team and become friends with some people he hadn’t been before.
But the transition was as smooth as taking candy from a baby, he said, and he’s able to rejoice with his teammates after wins.
“I was friends with a couple of kids on the team but not really everybody and they really embraced me, this being my first year and all,” he said. “I think they all understand that anytime they have a question or anytime they want help with anything that they can ask me, and if I don't have the answer that I can ask a couple of my coaches from club team. It's just been awesome.”
Campbell also said that with a young team, he was thrust into a leadership role.
“I knew that I'd have a lot of pressure this year with us being a really young team, only having one senior on the boys' team, that I'd really have to step up and that I'd have a bigger role than what most juniors would have on a team,” Campbell said. “It was difficult at first, I'd say, but I think I've definitely come into it and our kids really work together.”
The next stop for Campbell and Fairmont Senior will be this weekend when the team, along with East Fairmont and North Marion, will take to the waters of Clarksburg for the Rotary Invitational.
To prepare, Campbell said he goes full speed at all practices and maps out his goals for the upcoming weekend.
With the already sugary taste of victory in his mouth, Campbell will look to feast on some more victories this weekend.
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.