Cooper sophomore Nathan Welle knew from a young age that swimming would play a large role in his life.
Welle began swim lessons around the age of four, and he quickly progressed to the point where his swim lesson instructor urged him to join a swim club.
“All the other kids in my swim lesson had just completed their first pool length and I had lapped them,” Welle said. “I would be done by the time they got done with one pool length, and my teacher believed club would be better for me.
“I got to the point in swim lessons where they thought putting me in club would be a lot easier. I have been swimming competitively for six and a half years, so it has been a long journey.”
Now, six and a half years later, Welle, now 16, is arguably the top swimmer on the Cooper boys swim team, and he recently advanced to the state meet for the second consecutive season.
“I have been swimming for six and a half years now, year round, and my dedication to the sport has paid off,” Welle said. “This work has gotten me to this point of my career right now, but it is shocking how good I have become over these last couple of years.”
Welle has specialized in the freestyle during his Hawks career, and he said his progression in that stroke over the last season has reinforced his belief that the freestyle is the best event for him.
“Two years ago I tried doing the breaststroke and the individual medley and I got good at that, but my freestyle over the past year has gotten phenomenally better,” Welle said. “This season my freestyle really stood out, and my coaches thought it might give me a better chance to do freestyle at sections, which turned out pretty well.”
Welle broke the 100-yard freestyle and 200-yard freestyle Cooper records at the Section 5AA meet Feb. 25, while helping Cooper’s 200-yard freestyle relay team also break the Cooper school record.
“It was a cool feeling breaking the two freestyle records,” Welle said. “I broke the 200-free record by five seconds and the 100-free record was always a big goal of mine.”
Cooper head boys swim and dive coach Luke Johnson has been pleased with what he has seen from Welle during his Cooper career.
“As a tenth-grader I feel he is very grounded and he knows he has some room to grow,” Johnson said. “He is looking forward to trying to get to the podium and the top eight at state next year, and he definitely wants to be there next year.
“One of his goals is to swim in college and I feel he is on a very good track right now.”
Welle finished 22nd overall at state in the 200-yard freestyle, while placing 20th in the 100-yard freestyle event at the state meet.
“State wasn’t the outcome that I had hoped for, but it was a whole new learning experience for swimming, and there are plenty of years yet to come,” Welle said. “This is more motivation for next year, and I hope next year will be a better outcome.”
While his performance isn’t where Welle would have liked it to be, Johnson was proud of Welle’s effort.
“I told Nathan that he performed very well,” Johnson said. “He swam his second-best times of his life, he swam his best times the week before at sections.
“You can’t ask for much more than that on a consistent basis. He took this last week to gain more experience for the future.”
Welle has now set a goal to improve upon his state performance next season, and he will look to peak at next season’s state meet.
“This definitely drives me a lot and it adds more fire to the competitive side that drives me,” Welle said. “It gives me motivation to get better and hopefully be more inspiring to my teammates to get to state too, which would be an awesome thing as well.”
Welle is just one of 14 underclassmen on the Cooper roster and, with another year of seasoning and the potential addition of a summer training camp run by Johnson, Cooper could put itself in a good position to send more swimmers to the state meet next season.
Contact Chris Chesky at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris.