Hawken’s Strumbel among state and nation’s best prep swimmers

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Gates Mills Hawken School senior Brittany Strumbel
If Hawken swimmer Brittany Strumbel was so inclined after
finishing a typical race, she could jump out of the pool, towel off and
take a swig of bottled water. Then she could watch the competition come in. Strumbel routinely wins the 200 and 500 freestyle by
10 seconds or more. In fact, her time of 4:57.02 in the 500 is the best
in Ohio and 13th in the nation. Her
clocking of 1:50.49 in the 200 also ranks No. 1 in the state.


GATES MILLS – If Hawken School swimmer Brittany Strumbel was so inclined after finishing a typical race, she could jump out of the pool, towel off and take a swig of bottled water.

Then she could watch the competition come in.

Certainly, the polite senior is far too considerate for such a display of arrogance. But she does quite often win the 200 and 500 freestyle by 10 seconds or more. In fact, her time of 4:57.02 in the 500 is the best in Ohio and 13th in the nation among all high school swimmers. Her clocking of 1:50.49 in the 200 also ranks No. 1 in the state.

That dominance comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Hawken girls team, which has won nine consecutive Division II state championships. Strumbel took first in both the 200 and 500 freestyle last year and snagged the 200 freestyle crown as a sophomore. She is expected to win both events this season.

“She has always been pretty dominant,” understates Hawks coach Jerry Holtrey. “She has to race against the clock most of the time because the competition isn’t anywhere near her.”

That’s for sure. Her top times in the 200 and 500 freestyle are a full six seconds better than those of the second-best swimmers in the seven-county area surrounding Cleveland. And who woulda thunk it about 10 years ago, when Strumbel had to be taken to the YMCA pool kicking and screaming?

OK, she was at least not smiling as a kid when parents Mike and Karin dragged her to swim practice. But they believed it would be good for her in the long run.

They believed right. Strumbel began enjoying the sport as she developed an emotional bond to her fellow swimmers. She also realized well before her teenage years that she was quite gifted.

“I remember when I was 12 years old and I made the YMCA national cut, which is when it kind of hit me that I really enjoyed doing this and I was kind of good at it,” Strumbel explains. “I got used to it and fell in love with it. I just never thought of it as getting better at it than everyone else because I know how hard the other swimmers worked.”

Strumbel worked hard as well, particularly in her transformation from strict sprinting to longer distances. She excelled solely in the 50 and 100 until Holtrey trained her in the 200 and 500. Three years ago, the Hawks needed a swimmer to replace 200 and 500 specialist and perennial state champion Alyssa Keil, who has since taken her talents to the University of Georgia. Holtrey considered Strumbel the ideal candidate.

Shorter-distance events require speed and an ability to start quickly. Strumbel boasts both of those attributes, but she had to work on her endurance for the Hawks to replace Keil without missing a beat.

“I realized that I could compete in those events by holding a fast time for a longer period of time,” Strumbel says. “I didn’t know that I had such a capability for a lot of endurance.”

She did know, however, that she had the passion for swimming needed to improve her endurance. That hasn’t been a problem since those childhood days at the YMCA, but she still thanks her parents for that passion.

“My parents obviously got me into the pool and really focused me on swimming,” she says. “But there’s a difference between my parents and others I’ve seen. Most parents get really involved, but my parents are so supportive and I thank them for that. If I do well, that’s fine. If I don’t do well, they support me. They understand that it’s my life and I love them for that.”

That’s one reason Strumbel changed her thinking about college. Her initial feeling was to accept one of many scholarship offers from a school as distant from Ohio as possible, not to escape, but rather to explore a new area of the country.

Strumbel finally chose the University of Indiana after having visited Tennessee, Southern Methodist and Florida State. Her flights to those other destinations brought into stark reality just how far away from home she would be. And anyway, the Hoosiers are defending Big Ten champions.

“Being six hours from home is far enough away,” she says. “And it’s still close enough to Ohio that I’ll still be able to remain in contact with a lot of Ohio swimmers.”

Yeah, Ohio swimmers don’t mind being close to Strumbel. They just prefer not compete against her in the same pool.

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