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HS SWIMMING: Grand Island's Kaplan never quits

By Nate Beutel
Greater Niagara Newspapers

Grand Island — If anyone personified the notion that “winners never quit and quitters never win” better than Josh Kaplan, that would be quite a story.

But for now Kaplan, a senior swimmer at Grand Island, can have the spotlight to himself as he’s orchestrated an incredible turnaround in his swimming abilities over the last five years.

Kaplan signed up for the swim team at GI as an under-sized and extremely shy eighth-grader. And after only the first day, there seemed like little hope.

“We were worried he wouldn’t make it the length of the pool,” fifth-year GI coach Rob Collard said.

Kaplan said his initial time in the 50-yard freestyle was about 58 seconds — or just over 30 seconds slower than that of an average time in the event.

“I wasn’t very good,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan then tried his hand at diving as he had a gymnastics background, which also led to a friendship with fellow GI diver Ian O’Rourke, a former state champion. After only a few attempts, though, Kaplan decided that diving wasn’t his calling either.

“I didn’t know if this sport was for me,” Kaplan said.

After seemingly striking out with the sport, Kaplan did something most certainly wouldn’t have done after such little success — he joined a swim club and began to swim year-round. And not surprisingly, his times began to drop.

He rejoined the Vikings as a freshman and continued to see his times fall. By the time his sophomore campaign rolled around, Kaplan was a sectional qualifier and integral part to GI’s team.

“To his credit, he never quit,” Collard said. “He didn’t have many skills to start, but he always wanted to get better and he always wanted to learn.”

Then as a junior, Kaplan qualified for the state meet in the 100 back. But it’s his work this season that has brought Kaplan’s effort to the forefront. He’s already qualified for states in the 100 back, this time with a much more competitive time of 55.58 seconds. But perhaps even more importantly, Kaplan’s been the leader of a small and somewhat young Vikings squad that currently sits third in the Niagara Frontier League at 7-3.

“This team has shown a tremendous amount of maturity and focus,” Collard said.

The coach had similar comments for Kaplan individually, which explains why he believes his backstroker could make some noise at the both the NFL and Section VI meet.

“He’s very good at grasping what it’ll take to compete at that level,” Collard said while adding he believes Kaplan is capable of finishing in the top eight at sectionals.

To accomplish that feat, Kaplan feels as though he’ll need to swim close to a 55-flat, which is not out of the question according to Collard.

Kaplan has fallen in love with the sport so much that he’s now interested in swimming in college. He lists Geneseo as one of his top choices along with a number of Division II institutions. But even if his competitive swimming doesn’t extend beyond this season, the way he got to this point is quite remarkable in itself.

“I can’t say I foresaw a state qualifier in him, so that’s a credit to Josh and his ability to learn, adapt and progress,” Collard said.