eschickler@bcnnew.com

Natalie LeBlanc epitomized the strength, success and integrity of the girls swimming team this year. A senior captain who consistently won her events, received the Richard Rollins award from current Staples Coach Mike Laux (the Rollins award, which was named after Laux' predecessor, goes to the swimmer who has given the most to the team).

"I was definitely extremely excited and honored to receive it," LeBlanc says. "The Staples swim team has meant a lot to me over the past four years. I think it's such a great group of people and I'm thankful to be a part of it. I like to get involved when I care about something and I tried to help it be the best it can be."

She was good her first three years for the Lady Wreckers but this year, she stepped it up.

"After the past four years, I learned the right balance between my high school and club swim [Zeus in Norwalk] teams," LeBlanc says. "I know my abilities and the balance I needed to perform my best. Because it was my last year, I wanted to do my best. The team being supportive made a big difference."

The backstroke is her primary event and she consistently won it for Staples. It has been her main event from the time she first swam it and in the Class LL finals, she placed fourth in the 100-yard back with a time of 1:01.11.

"After you swim something so much, you know what techniques work for you and how to swim the race," LeBlanc says. "Once I began to swim it well, I had the mindset that these are my strengths and I worked to improve it."

The 200-individual medley was her other main event and at Class LL, she finished 13th in the 200-yard IM (2:16.77).

"In general, my coaches have taught me good technique and endurance," LeBlanc says. "I'm pretty strong in all my strokes and I'm confident I can swim my best in all events."

Although she possesses confidence in her self, she understands her limits. This enables her to excel in the 200-IM and have good transition while going from the butterfly to the backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.

"Overall, the breaststroke is my weakest stroke and I learned how to strategize my race that I can keep up with my opponent in the breaststroke," LeBlanc says. "Learning how to strategize is an important part of swimming and I'm able to do it."

LeBlanc doesn't just succeed in individual events, she's strong in relay events as well. In fact, she has a high pressure position on the 200-medley relay in which she leads off as the backstroke leg. Not only does she lead off this particular race but she is the first person in the pool because this is the first event of the meet.

"It's a lot of pressure but the pressure helps you as long as it doesn't get to you," LeBlanc says. "High school [swimming] is more a team experience and you want to perform well not just for yourself but for your team as well."

She also swam a leg for the 400-freestyle relay and her position varied from race to race.

"Being in a relay is a different experience because three other girls depend on you to swim your fastest," LeBlanc says. "You go in with a different mindset and swim your heart out from the beginning."

Swimming has always come naturally for her and she began taking lessons in her early years. She first swam competitively for Shore Haven Country Club at age 8.

"My mom swam a little bit when she was younger," LeBlanc says. "My parents saw I had ability and put me in it when I was younger. When I made good friends in it, I began to enjoy it a whole lot more."

At age 9, she joined Zeus.

"Zeus has helped me because it focuses on endurance and high school teaches technique," LeBlanc says. "Mixing the two has helped me the past few years."

Leadership is another strength of hers as she served Staples as captain. She led by example through her work ethic and verbally by always encouraging and directing them.

"It's definitely a lot of work but in the end, it helps you become close with the other captains and the rest of the team," LeBlanc says. "I'm happy to have the opportunity and it's something I'll look back on and remember."

Laux says, "She's a fantastic swimmer and captain. She's a quiet leader, is popular with the girls and knows how to use her personality in working with the team."

One future Lady Wrecker who has learned from her is her sister, eighth grader Gabby LeBlanc, who is strong in the breaststroke.

"I look up to Natalie a lot because she's accomplished a lot with her swimming," Gabby LeBlanc says. "She's done well for Staples and I want to do well for Staples when I get there. She helped me a lot because she's good at the strokes I'm not good at. I can learn about technique from her and the importance of streamlining."

Academically, she has taken AP and honors courses. English is her favorite subject.

"It's something I learned, you have to handle your overall time for studying and find time to relax afterwards," LeBlanc says. "It's hard to catch up when you fall behind and I try to get ahead."

Next year, she plans on swimming in college and knows she'll need to raise her performance a few levels. She's undecided about her major and career plans.

"I have to remember everything I learned from previous experiences and merge it with what the new coach teaches me," LeBlanc says. "Also, I can never give up. If I balance my academics with swimming, it will all pay off."

Laux says, "Natalie will do very well and she'll be one of the best swimmers wherever she goes."