Photo by Jessa Pease.
Spain Park Swim Team
Jessica Bilek practices sets of breaststroke while preparing for the sectional meet.
They might be a young team, but Spain Park’s swimmers are still heading for the state meet.
Leading the way are senior Jessica Bilek and juniors Caitlin Bullard and Jack Zalewski. All three swimmers practice year-round with USA Swim Teams — Bilek and Zalewski at Lifetime Fitness in Vestavia and Bullard with Birmingham Swim League.
Bilek has been on the Spain Park swim team since she was in seventh grade, and she has been swimming for coach Daniel Rozick for three years. More than anything, Rozick said, Bilek is a distance swimmer. The mile is her race, but the 500-yard freestyle is the longest race in the high school program.
Although Bilek has already made state cuts in both the 500- and the 200-yard freestyle, she will have to perform those times again at the sectional meet in order to qualify for state. Her 500 free time is at 5:24.58 against the state qualifying time of 5:43.99, and her 200 free sits at a 2:05.69 versus the qualifying time of 2:09.29.
Rozick believes she will do well in the state meet.
“She is a real competitive person,” he said. “When you put her in a competitive situation, she’ll get out there and get after it, so I think she’ll do well. She’s a killer, which I say that with all the love in the world. She’s great to have around. She sets a good example for the other swimmers.”
In addition to swimming, Bilek also runs track, which Rozick says gives her an advantage.
“Her legs are a lot stronger than any of these other guys,” he said. “I think she has a lot more endurance and the capability to really reproduce that oxygen in her legs, recycle it and use it for recovery that a lot of them don’t have.”
Like Bilek, Bullard has already made the state cuts in the 500- and the 200-yard freestyle. As the strongest female swimmer on the team, she holds the record for the 500 at 5:18.07. Her coach, Mike Davidson with the Birmingham Swim League, said she will not have any problem qualifying for state.
“She’ll be well equipped for the 500 in the Alabama state high school meet,” Davidson said. “I’d be very surprised if she didn’t make top eight and the top five for that meet in December.”
The top male swimmer on the team, and the only male on the team in high school, is Jack Zalewiski.
“He’s built very much like a sprinter,” Rozick said. “His muscles are a little bit bigger, so he’s a little heavier in the water. He doesn’t roll for the distances quite the same way as the skinnier, kind of ganglier, kids do.”
Zalewiski hasn’t yet hit the state cuts for his races, the 50- and the 100-yard freestyle, but Rozick thinks he’ll pull it off at the sectionals meet. His 50-yard freestyle sits at 25.45 versus the 24.79 qualifying time, and his 100-yard is 57.86 against the 54.19 state time.
“He’s got a lot of power,” Rozick said. “He spends a lot of time in the weight room, and that helps him. He really works through the water quite well on the 50 and the 100.”