Making a splash at early age

It seemed like an ordinary swim lesson at the time.

But then came another, and another, and before she knew it, competitive swimming had sunk its teeth into Breanna Sapienza.

Sapienza, now an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Grace Christian, has flourished in the pool since she began competitive swimming three years ago.

"I really enjoy competing," says Sapienza, "and I think it's a fun sport."

As a member of the Superior Stingray Swimming Club, Sapienza has already posted the 10th-best time in the nation in the 50-meter butterfly for girls her age and is ranked first in Oregon and 39th in the nation in the 1,650-yard event.

Sapienza recorded her top time of 32.41 seconds in the 50 fly last month at the Reno Gamble High Altitude Championships — a long course invitational for 11-year-old girls.

The top time in the 1,650 came during Sapienza's very first race in the event.

"She's one of those swimmers that has natural ability in the pool," says Stingray's coach Greg Amorelli. "It's rare to have a swimmer that seems to excel in everything she does."

Next up for Sapienza and some of her Stingray's teammates is the state qualifying meet July 26-29 in Gresham for ages 11-and-up.

Amorelli expects to have about 35 of his students competing at state events this summer.

"Two summers ago, we took 15 kids to state combined," Amorelli says. "Last year we took 18, and this year we already have at least 35 kids going."

Amorelli first took over the program about a year ago from Suha Tokman, who went back to his native country of Turkey to coach.

The Medford YMCA and Superior Aquatics programs merged, leaving Amorelli with around 120 students to work with.

And Sapienza has turned into one of his top pupils.

"She works very hard," says Amorelli. "And she has a natural feel in the water that not all swimmers have."

Sapienza's versatility in the pool, in part, comes from the new training techniques used by Amorelli.

In the workouts, which typically occur five days a week, Stingray swimmers train in a little bit of everything to stay well-equipped for any event.

"I really have emphasized to the kids to train in everything," says Amorelli. "Maybe they don't like the 400 IM but they know how to swim it and aren't afraid to swim it. That opens up avenues that we haven't been able to look down before.

"By training at an early age to do everything, they are not afraid to do longer events in the future."

Sapienza is one of those swimmers who has flourished in such a program.

"I like butterfly," says Sapienza. "That's my favorite. I've always been able to do very well at it. I can swim other things, too."

But it wasn't a strong desire on the part of Sapienza that brought her to the sport.

Like most young children, she was originally given swim lessons as a precaution.

"We had her take lessons because we would read about all these drownings," says Otila Sapienza, Breanna's mother. "We just wanted her to know how to swim.

"Coach Rich (Hobbins) saw her and said she should try competing. I guess he must have seen something we didn't."

Since then, Breanna Sapienza has been in the pool year-round.

"We are at a swim meet at least once a month," says Otila Sapienza of her only child. "It keeps us busy, but she really enjoys it."

And it keeps her swimming at a level well above others her age.

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483, or e-mail

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