Sophomore swimmer breaking pool records

By Randy Lieberman

The first time he competed, he threw up beforehand because of anxiety.

“I remember… The first time he competed, he threw up beforehand because of anxiety.

“I remember praying the Rosary in rapid-fire succession,” Pitt sophomore Jake Lucas said.

Lucas, 15 at the time, jumped in the pool for the 100-yard butterfly, the first event he would swim after giving up football, baseball and wrestling. He was ready, the horn sounded and he was off.

Several years later, he touched the Trees Pool wall at this year’s Eastern College Athletic Conference Championships, the clock said 47.24 seconds. Lucas climbed out of the pool a Pitt record holder for the 100 butterfly.

It’s been about five years from when he started, but to Lucas, he still feels like he stumbled into the sport of swimming.

But in some ways, Lucas has come a long way since that first 100 butterfly.

During the race, Lucas said he swam along until he stopped once, to check where the other competitors were.

Nobody was around.

Then he did it again, and he saw the same thing. Finally, he began treading water, thinking he did something wrong.

“While treading water, I asked my coach if I was disqualified. He yelled back that I was winning and said, ‘Hurry up and finish the race,’” Lucas said.

Lucas couldn’t remember his time from his first race, but now, everyone can look up his current 100 butterfly time. His 47.20 in the 100 fly during the Big East Championships broke the previous mark of 48.09 set by Mike Kozlina on Feb. 1, 1990.

Lucas was also a member of two relay teams to earn fist-place finishes and set ECAC records.

One team, highlighted by Lucas, sophomore Otto Pagel, freshman Donald Mata and junior Andrzej Dubiel combined for an NCAA provisional time of 1:21.53. The 200 medley relay team, with Lucas, Pagel, freshman Adam Maczewski and senior Jonathan Buchanan earned the ECAC championship and set a meet record with a time of 1:29.53.

Lucas came to Pitt from Richmond, Va. He considers Richmond to be home, but others have been in Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey. His father’s career progress as a pharmaceutical salesman forced Lucas, his mother and his three siblings to move numerous times.

After his parents divorced, Lucas moved to Richmond with his mother when he was 12. There he conveniently found a home near a prominent swimming coach.

“I was real lucky to happen to move into the neighborhood of the head coach of this huge club team,” Lucas said. “I kind of haphazardly wandered into the sport without any real experience.”

Lucas admitted he struggled to get within a shot of his junior varsity times when he began swimming in ninth grade. Then, after competing in the summer, a friend approached him about training in the winter with the same team.

He did, and returned in the summer with much more success.

“I was trying to get my junior varsity time, didn’t get it, and all of a sudden, I was setting pool records,” Lucas said. “I guess giving a little bit of time and effort to the sport helped.”

He decided to drop baseball and football, which he admitted to playing because “That’s what the men do in my family,” and tried swimming on a summer team in the area.

He trained with a team he said was one of the better club teams in the nation, but he couldn’t say the name of the team.

He said he wanted to avoid another lawsuit.

“I was a junior in high school, and I mentioned their name in a two-page short story for the school magazine,” Lucas said.

“I think it was a copyright, or trademark or something — something I didn’t have permission to do apparently — and they got very mad, and the head coach pressed charges. Isn’t that wild?”

Thus, it was apparent early on that swimming in his region took a different level of commitment.

“Literally, at 4 a.m. every morning, we were diving into the water,” Lucas said. “All of a sudden, you’re going to sleep at 9 o’clock, you’re 16, you’re just trying to go out with your friends but nope, you have practice on Saturday.”

Lucas transferred his senior year of high school. In doing so, he transferred to a club team that hired one of the most experienced and prestigious swimming coaches in the U.S.

Through his teachings with this team, QDD, Lucas’ training took off.

“The first day we met him, he basically told us he’s never gone a year where someone on his team didn’t get an Olympic trials cut,” Lucas said. “It really changed my mentality, because the whole year I was working towards making that cut. I told myself that I was going to be that kid.”

Someone else was that kid, but Pitt coaches started to take notice of Lucas.

Pitt assistant coach Aaron Workman, a native of Dublin, Va., heard about Lucas’ success with QDD.

“I knew he was a really raw kid, hadn’t been trained extensively,” Workman said. “A lot of coaches in that area said he was going to be an incredible swimmer as long as he gets into a program that’s stable and swims on a consistent basis.”

Yet Workman said swimming appears to come so naturally to Lucas, he sometimes doesn’t have to try.

He said Lucas overslept for a Christmas meet, a non-University meet, last year. But he woke up, warmed up in 20 minutes and broke a meet record in his first event.

“Where he could go in swimming is still so far beyond what he’s at now,” Workman said.

It’s also far from where he came from.

He first dove into a pool when he was 15. Now, it seems like a natural feel for the water propels him toward more swimming success.

It’s a safe bet he won’t be treading water anytime soon.