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Hart swim's Matt Johnson: A mind game

Hart High swimmer Matt Johnson takes an analytical approach to swimming

Posted: March 17, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 17, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Hart High junior Matt Johnson, The Signal's 2012 All-Santa Clarita Valley Boys Swimmer of the Year, returns to a stacked Hart team. The 17 year old won two Foothill League titles in 2012, in the 500-yard freestyle and 200-yard individual medley.

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From the outside it looks simple. Get to the ready, dive in and swim.

But what goes on in the water is much more complex than simply stringing together a series of strokes.

And that’s what Hart High swimmer Matt Johnson loves about the sport: it’s analytical.

“I really like to break down my races part by part and analyze how I’m going to swim each section,” the 17 year old says. “It’s kind of like a game for me. I enjoy breaking things down and analyzing and it just makes the sport more interesting.”

That’s what led Johnson to distance swimming.

Johnson excelled last season, both in high school and beyond.

He won two individual league titles at the Foothill League finals in the 500-yard freestyle and 200-yard individual medley.

But his real highlight was qualifying and swimming at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Neb., last summer.

The fact that he has already achieved such highs in the world of swimming, though, makes his feelings toward the upcoming high school season seem a bit interesting.

When Johnson steps up to the board in the Indians’ Foothill League opener on Wednesday against West Ranch, he expects to feel something that most would probably deem odd for a kid who swam at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials just last summer: nerves.

“Being at trials in that arena, that atmosphere, I can say I wasn’t nervous before that race,” Johnson says. “But I still get nervous before a high school meet.”

He’ll try to conquer those nerves this season, as the reigning Signal All-Santa Clarita Valley boys swimmer of the year is expected to play a major role in the Indians’ title run — a title that would be their 18th straight.

The adjustment won’t stop with the size of the arena, though.

Johnson specializes in distance events — at the national level that means the 1,000-meter and mile races.

In high school, those events don’t exist, which is why Johnson swims the 500-yard freestyle when the high school season rolls around.

“I love the shorter stuff, it’s a lot higher adrenaline and the racing intensity is a lot higher,” Johnson says, being one of the few high school swimmers to refer to the 500 as short. “When you’re swimming against guys in the mile, it’s more of a strategy. You have to think a lot more about what you’re doing rather than the 200 and 500. For me, it’s an all-out sprint kind of thing.”

And that’s where Johnson has an advantage.

Where most high school swimmers would consider the 500 free a distance race, it’s merely a ‘long sprint’ to Johnson.

“I think if the training goes right, if high school is his priority, you’ll see a breakout year,” says Hart head coach Steve Neale. “I’d love to see him get All American this year in the 500 and that’s a reasonable goal. That’s prestigious to be recognized among your peers as one of the finest high school swimmers in the nation.”

Fortunately for Hart, there’s no question that high school is at the top of Johnson’s mind this season.

“(My goal) is to break some records,” Johnson says. “I haven’t broken any records, I’m looking at maybe a CIF title in the 500, but that’s going to be a really hard push.”

He’s also excited by the prospect of battling with Valencia for the Foothill League title.

During Johnson’s first two seasons Hart was heavily favored to win league and followed through, stretching their championship streak to its current 17 straight.

After Valencia won the Santa Clarita Invitational, though, the message is clear: the 2013 Foothill League title is up for grabs.

“It’s hard to swim high school and enjoy it when you can predict what’s going to happen and who’s going to win league,” Johnson says. “And I can honestly say I have no idea this year. The years in the past you just know we’re going to win or they’ll win and you can predict the races. Everything’s up in the air this year.”

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