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The Day's All-Area Swimmer of the Year: East Lyme's Nikki Hahn

There's not a lot Nikki Hahn does that's easy. She's a member of the East Lyme High School crew team in the spring, swimming in the fall. And, specifically, in the pool she is a breaststroke specialist, the slowest of the four strokes and requiring an inordinate amount of timing.

"A lot of the sets we do at practice are really, really hard," said Hahn, a sophomore. "I don't know if I would have improved without seeing all my teammates get through it beside me. We'll see a set on the board and think, 'What? That's crazy.' And then it's the most amazing thing. It helps us a ton.

"... In rowing you have to really test yourself past your limit. You really think you exhausted all your energy and then you have to keep going. Learning that in crew has helped me a lot in swimming."

Hahn, the Eastern Connecticut Conference champion in the 100-yard breaststroke (1 minute, 5.28 seconds, a meet record) and 200 individual medley (2:09.65), as well as in the 200 medley relay (1:52.06) and 200 freestyle relay (1:42.04), set eight school, pool and ECC records this season and went on to earn Class M all-state honors in three different events.

She was named The Day's 2019 All-Area Swimmer of the Year.

The 5-foot-10 Hahn, who has been named co-captain for her junior season — "people want to hear her advice; she just talks to them," coach Jack Stabach said — earned ECC Swimmer of the Meet honors as the Vikings captured their 20th straight league championship.

"She's a competitor," Stabach said. "She's a strong girl. She has a swimmer's body and she's developing that now. She has a drive that can't be beat. She's going to fight. She fights when she swims. She's determined. You don't find people with all those qualities.

"She did that (broke the school record in the breaststroke) at ECCs, which was amazing. ... She was shocked. She didn't believe she could do 1:05."

Hahn shattered the former league breaststroke record of 1:08.12, set by Fitch's Adelaide Taylor in 2008. She also swam the breaststroke leg for East Lyme's 200 medley relay team, joining Hiruni Jackawickreme, Katie Keating and Grace Vlaun, which broke another ECC record dating back to 2006.

The 200 IM, of course, also features the breaststroke as the third leg.

Hahn was second at the Class M state championship in the breaststroke (1:05.68), third in the IM (2:09.89) and led the medley relay team to a second-place finish. The Vikings were third as a team with 427 points. She then swam all three events at the State Open, placing sixth in the breaststroke in 1:06.35.

Her brother Bobby, a senior on the East Lyme boys' team who also swims the breaststroke, is the defending ECC champion in the 200 IM and as a member of the 200 freestyle relay team.

"Is is kind of a coincidence," Hahn said of she and her brother swimming the same event. "We always say it runs in the family. ... We talk about swimming all the time, whatever's going on at practice, how meets went, anything. It's nice to have someone you know at every meet (high school and club)."

Hahn arrived at the high school as a freshman having been part of a state championship swim team at East Lyme Middle School, winning the 100 IM title at that meet. She played the saxophone and was involved in East Lyme Regional Theater productions of Beauty and the Beast and Fiddler on the Roof.

She won a pair of individual events at last year's ECC meet, the breaststroke (1:11.28) and the IM (2:17.63), and joined the winning medley relay team.

But still, she thought any record-setting performances were far off in the future, saving those maybe for her senior year.

"When I came into high school, those were still a lot faster than me," Hahn said. "I got some of those this year. I'm shocked and so happy with what I've done this season."

"When she came in, I didn't really know her," Stabach said. "About a month after she started, I said, 'This girl can do this.' She's all business. She works really, really hard. This is a team that has a good work ethic. They drag each other out of the pool sometimes after workouts."

Breaststroke is known as the toughest stroke to swim fast because of the coordination it takes between a competitor's arms and legs.

"I don't think I figured out that timing," Hahn said. "When exactly are you supposed to shoot your arms forward and snap your heels together? Probably around Class M finals freshman year was one of my biggest drops in time. I went 1:12, 1:11 in the Class M prelim and in the finals I dropped another three seconds (to 1:07.44, finishing second). It's harder to swim fast. It's not necessarily the most physically taxing, but a lot of it's timing."

Stabach said Hahn has the capability to swim collegiately at the Division I level.

Hahn calls the whole thing, standing on the starting blocks at the State Open, for instance — "people who are even the next level above you and the level above that and you get to race them" — somewhat scary.

She said she feels pressure to swim well, but only from within.

"Freshman year I won both my individuals at ECCs. Like, 'OK, can I keep this up for the next three years?'" she said. "There's that added level. 'Am I going to keep it going or lose my streak here?' ... It's kind of surprised me how much I've improved."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

The Day's 2019 All-Area Swimming & Diving Team

Player of the Year — Nikki Hahn (East Lyme)

200-yard medley relay — East Lyme (Hiruni Jayawickreme, Nikki Hahn, Katie Keating, Grace Vlaun)

100 freestyle, 200 freestyle — Grace Vlaun (East Lyme)

50 freestyle — Lily Watson (Waterford)

Diving — Katie Shaughnessy (Fitch)

100 butterfly — Katie Keating (East Lyme)

500 freestyle — Anna Lu (East Lyme)

200 freestyle relay — East Lyme (Nikki Hahn, Lauren Hinckley, Katie Keating, Grace Vlaun)

100 backstroke — Delaney Reck (Fitch)

400 freestyle relay — Old Lyme/Valley Regional/Old Saybrook (Laura Day, Helen Day, Connie Pan, Grace Sweeney)

Utility — Gloria Ng (NFA)

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