NEW LONDON >> It’s not like Olivia Paoletti has a bad memory, or doesn’t pay attention. Avon Grove’s star swimmer is very cerebral and ultra-focused.
Sure, she can’t recall getting started in swimming as a youngster. And if you ask Paoletti how many District 1 titles she’s amassed, or how many state medals she’s accumulated, she just shrugs. But it’s all understandable.
“I’ve always been in the water,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t know if I remember starting. I just can’t remember I time when I haven’t been a swimmer.”
And as far as accomplishments go, Paoletti has been such a prolific high school swimmer, it’s just too much to process. Of course, she can recall each of the six individual state championships she’s seized over the years, but it’s difficult to remember all of the noteworthy results because there have been so many.
“It is safe to say that she is the best male or female swimmer to ever come through Avon Grove,” said the team’s head coach Kelly Burk.
“I couldn’t have asked for a more satisfying high school career,” said Paoletti, the 2018 Daily Local News Girls’ Swimmer of the Year.
Paoletti culminated her high school career in dominating fashion at the PIAA 3A State Championships by defending her titles in both the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley. And she helped the Red Devils’ 400 freestyle relay grab a fourth place finish and was a huge factor in Avon Grove’s runner-up finish in the team standings.
“It’s hard to live up to (Olivia),” said her younger sister Isabella, who is an extremely accomplished swimmer as well. “I am always cheering for her and it always puts a smile on my face to see her win.”
Just four years old when she began swimming at the Jennersville YMCA, Paoletti says she wasn’t a knock-out talent those first years.
“I remember enjoying it in the summer,” she recalled. “When you start so young, everyone is the same. I remember trying to make all of your strokes legal – that’s the big thing. I think I fell in love with it, and then I wanted to get better.”
At age 10, she started showing great promise and moved on to the Delaware Swim Team. By middle school, Paoletti stopped playing other sports and began focusing in on swimming.
By the time she got to Avon Grove, Paoletti was a prodigy. After her freshman season she qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials in Omaha in the 400 IM. She then captured two goal medals at states as a sophomore, surprising even herself. And that’s hard to do because Paoletti has always been driven.
“The easiest state meet was probably my sophomore year because I didn’t have a target on my back,” Paoletti acknowledged. “I was so excited that year after having those amazing swims, but as soon as it was over, I was nervous for the next year.
“After I won the first ones, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I wanted to defend the titles. I was so surprised as a sophomore and I just tried to keep the momentum.”
Despite the self-imposed tension, Paoletti went on to successfully defend the two state crowns as a junior and again as a senior. But there was a lot of angst along the way, which concerned Burk and her parents.
“It’s all in my head,” Paoletti explained. “I’ve had talks with my parents and my coaches about it. I have always been the hardest on myself. It adds to the pressure, and I don’t like being under pressure, but everyone is quick to say that I do well under pressure.”
Burk added: “We kind of talk her off the ledge a little bit sometimes to try to relax her. But she also feeds off of the pressure and that what makes her such a great swimmer.”
It is no surprise that Paoletti also brings that same type of competitive edge to academics. She will graduate at, or near, the very top of her class and will be swimming and studying at Yale beginning next fall.
“Everyone says that swimmers are smart,” Paoletti said. “It’s kind of like a joke. But it is such a grueling sport (considering) how much you have to practice to be good at it. It teaches time management and you have to be extremely motivated. It’s a lot of hours staring at a black line. It’s not the most fun sport to practice.
“To be motivated in the pool translates to school work — to have motivation in one carries over to the other.”
According to Burk, Paoletti trains six days a week for 11 months of the year. And two or three days each week, her workouts are two-a-days. Talk about time management.
“Any coach would want Olivia,” Burk added. “Not only is she a fierce competitor, she helps her teammates. She will be missed not only for her speed but for her great attitude. Swimming is like a family and she is a big sister to everybody.”
Paoletti already has some heady goals for college, including a return to the Olympic Trials in 2020 and she eventually she wants to qualify for the NCAAs.
“Anything she puts her mind to, I can totally see her reaching those goals,” Burk said.
“Swimming has opened so many doors for me,” Paoletti added. “Being able to go to the school of my choosing, such a prestigious university, and to have all of the hard work payoff is the most humbling thing of all.”
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