Profile: Pioneer’s swimming team has the right person captaining their young ship

The Pioneer swimming and diving team swam into this season loaded with a team of outstanding young swimmers. Their freshman class is already making waves around the SEC and they only seem to be getting better every time they jump in the water.With such a young team, the Pioneers needed some strong leadership to help get everyone on the team swimming in the same direction. Enter Katie Capelli, a team captain and the Pioneer’s top returning swimmer from last season.

Capelli leads by example. Just ask head coach Stefanie Kerska.


“What makes Katie so fun to coach is that she embraces all challenges in workouts,” says Kerska. “She’s not afraid to go for it and she’s not afraid of pain or discomfort. That’s a great combination in a distance swimmer.”

And don’t think the youngsters aren’t noticing the way Katie goes about her training. Being a captain is something she takes very seriously and it’s a combination of “show” and “tell.”

“It is a young team, but a very talented one,” Capelli says. “The freshman need to learn how to balance the swimming and schoolwork. As captain, I believe I can lead the team through that by helping and encouraging them to do their best in and out of the pool and to take measures to stay healthy.

“If I do that, I think we’ll have a strong state team this year. I also plan to set an example as a hard worker to inspire others to do their best.”

This season also is about Katie getting better and continuing the learning process as she swims along in her senior year.

“She’s learned to swim really smart races and that is going to help her reach a new level this season,” Kerska says.

She reached a pretty impressive level last year as a junior. She was both All-SEC and All-State last season after finishing seventh at last year’s State Finals in the 500 freestyle with a time of 5:03.08.

“That meet was particularly redemptive because it was at the same pool as my sophomore year state meet where I struggled a lot so having a good meet felt amazing,” said Capelli, the daughter of Betsy and Craig Capelli.

Capelli has been swimming with Club Wolverine since she was 9 years old and says that there’s been a lot of ups and downs over the last eight years.

“My greatest accomplishment was getting my first NCSA cut in the 500 a few years ago,” she said. “Since then, I have had many other accomplishments, but nothing has topped that for me. I’ve also been there to see many great team accomplishments like when we won NCSA this summer.”

To become an elite swimmer requires more than just swimming for your high school and a club team. It takes a certain dedication, especially when the alarm rings at 5 a.m. for those pre-school workouts. Capelli admits that it’s been very hard to get to where she is at in her swimming career.

“It’s taken hard work in the pool ever since I started swimming year round at Club Wolverine when I was 9,” she says. “I’ve become the swimmer I am by hard work in the pool and during dryland (training) as well as working on having a more positive attitude to keep me in a good headspace during practices and meets.”

And her best event is one of the more difficult events in high school swimming.

“The 500 is a very hard race, but I love it,” she says. “I started swimming it well before my freshman year because I realized I was better at the longer distances, but I didn’t enjoy swimming it (because it was so hard) until my first high school season.”

Her strategy has definitely changed over the years.

“With the help of Stef (Kerska) I’ve developed a race strategy that works for me,” she says. “I’ve put so much effort in during practice that during my best 500s, I don’t think about too much, everything comes second nature. Going into each race, I know I’ve put in the preparation to swim fast.”

And that’s the goal for this season for Capelli – to swim as fast as she can. If she does that, the other goals should fall into place.

“I want to try to have the best state meet of my high school career by earning All-State honors again and swimming as fast as possible,” she said. “So far this season, my 500 splitting has been good and my 200 free has also been strong. I would like to continue that going into the rest of the season.”

And then there are the team goals – the ones helped set by the captain.

“Going into the season, there were a lot of freshmen I could identify as state cut material, but I want to get as many girls that you didn’t expect to make states on the state team,” she says. “With Stef as our coach, I think it’s very possible.”

Capelli, who has a 3.95 grade-point average, hasn’t decided on a college yet but would like to study history and continue swimming. She didn’t put in all this work in the pool to stop now.

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