March 22, 2014 04:50PM
By DOUG CHAMPION
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — Can you top this? With the state swimming championships today at Brown University, Westerly High’s Logan Hellwig will have his final opportunity to answer that question — again — with a resounding “Yes!”
Hellwig has been the record-setting giant for the Westerly High team in its 10-year history. The senior established school records in seven of the eight individual events (all but breaststroke), and subsequently broke five of his own records. He also helped establish school records in two of the three relays (excepting the 400 free relay) and later helped break both.
He has won 49 of his 51 dual-meet individual races, 10 Division II titles and three state championships. Hellwig was named All-State in four events in his sophomore and junior years and the Cox Sports male swimmer of the year last season.
Josh and Kerri Butler were Westerly High’s co-coaches for eight of the program’s first nine years, including Hellwig’s first three years. Former Westerly swimmer Willie Barber was coach for most of this season before having to return to his job in California just before the states.
“I’ve had 12 coaches in my six years of swimming,” Hellwig said. “Each has been different and each has given me a different experience. That has really helped me.
“I’ve had a lot of teammates over time. They’ve been the highlight of my Westerly High experience. I also have loved going to the big, giant meets — competing against and getting to know other kids from other schools.”
Today’s state meet
Most of the attention at today’s boys’ meet will be on the team championship, and whether Bishop Hendricken’s 24-year title run will be broken. Smithfield poses the greatest threat, having outscored Hendricken this year at the Division I championships and at a major invitational meet, after losing by 10 points to the Hawks in the season-opening dual meet. Westerly’s best team finish at the states was fifth in 2010 and 2012.
Hellwig won the state title in the 50-yard freestyle race his sophomore year, helped win the 200-free relay and was runner-up in the 100 free. He won the 50 free title again last year, was second in the 100 backstroke and helped the team place third in the 200-free relay and fifth in the 400-free relay.
He will swim in the 50 free and 100 back again this year. He likely (but not definitely) will swim the opening backstroke leg for the Bulldogs’ 200-medley relay team and likewise anchor the 200-free relay team.
If so, he will be repeating the difficult challenge of swimming in back-to-back races without rest (the 200-free relay, then the 100 back).
“This is my last high school meet,” Hellwig said. “My coaches are letting me choose. My goal is to win both individual races and to help us finish in the top five in two relays (the 200-medley and 200-free relays).
“I chose the 50 free because it’s my strongest event. I’ve won it twice (school record last year and only four-hundredths of a second off the state record). I want to win it one more time.
“I chose the 100 back because I’m also strong in this event. I finished second last year (breaking his own school record, despite swimming back-to-back events). I’d like to win it.”
Hellwig (turning 18 this spring) has been swimming competitively only for six years. The Westerly native said he played goalie in the Westerly Youth Soccer League, tried out for the Westerly Middle team, but didn’t make it. He started swimming at the Westerly-Pawcatuck YMCA when he was in seventh grade.
“I swam at the Y for six months and broke two pool records (50 free and 50 butterfly),” Hellwig said. “I progressed so quickly that my coach (Kevin Gavin) encouraged me to join a year-round club. I chose the Connecticut Aquatic Club (in Groton) because its swimming community was bigger, with a lot more teams and a lot more competition.”
Hellwig has excelled at CAC ever since. He was a three-time age-group champion (200 free, 100 back, 100 fly), has gone to the state sectionals three times and has been a Connecticut All-Star on zone teams in three events (50 free, 100 free and 100 fly). He practices there six days per week for two hours a day.
“I didn’t join the Westerly High team right away as a freshman,” Hellwig said. “When I started high school, my club coach and I planned four years ahead — where I wanted to be before starting college.
“My goal was to make Junior Nationals by the time I graduated high school. I wanted to be among the best 18-and-under swimmers in the U.S. I need to reach the qualifying standards to go. I haven’t met them yet, but I’m about a half-second off in both the 50 free and 100 back. I hope to make that this season or summer.”
In Rhode Island, swimmers can practice and swim concurrently for both high school and club teams, with very few restrictions.
“I told Logan that we’d never interfere with his club training,” Kerri Butler said. “I said that by swimming with us he’d be reminded of why he started swimming in the first place (to have fun) and why he loves the sport.”
Westerly coaches’ take
Hellwig’s Westerly coaches laud his personal qualities and his impact on the team and school.
“Logan is incredibly talented and dedicated and has been a tremendous asset for our team and his teammates,” Kerri Butler said. “He has had a dramatic impact (on the school and sport). We draw a crowd to see him set records. Even the Dawg Pound (the school’s cheering section) comes to our meets. We now have very loud meets. Personally, Logan is nice, thoughtful and very humble.”
“Logan is a natural,” Josh Butler said. “He’s more in tune with what you are doing in a race; most kids don’t have an idea. Logan knows every aspect — how many strokes, every single turn. He’s very much into it. Talent-wise, he’s very fluid, very smooth. He’s not cocky. He’s very down-to-earth.”
“It’s really not all about him,” Barber said. “He’s always helping other swimmers. He’s really big about the team. He’s very humble. He’s into the whole team dynamic. Team bonding is a life skill and Logan has that.”
Hellwig is an honor-roll student (3.1 GPA) and will graduate this May. He will continue CAC swimming this spring and summer and hopes to reach his goal of qualifying for the Junior Nationals. He said that would open up more college opportunities.
He has visited the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, a Division I school that has won the Colonial Athletic Association title for 12 consecutive years.
He will be visiting St. Bonaventure University, a Division I school in western New York that is the defending Atlantic-10 Conference champion.
He said he has talked with both coaches, likes both schools, will consider a few more and hopes for scholarship opportunities (perhaps having to earn that once swimming there).
“My swimming goals are the Olympics,” the goal-oriented Hellwig said. “I’d like to make the Olympic trials in 2016 (having to make their time standards). Then I’ll shoot for the Olympics in 2020 (in Tokyo) — or maybe even in Boston (in 2024?). That would be something.”