Hitting the wall is not an issue for Rosary High swimmer
Brian Whitehead, OCVarsity
"Get to the wall. Attack the wall. Get in and out of your turn.
This is a sampling of thoughts that race through Isabella Kearns’ mind in competition. The wall, she said, a checkpoint of sorts during an individual swim heat, is where high school swimmers typically bungle their pace.
To use the wall the way Kearns does is to use it advantageously and without error.
More than a decade’s worth of coaching has gone into refining her approach, but in short time Rosary High’s senior standout will showcase her pool savvy at the University of Utah.
“I still don’t think I’ve reached my full potential,” said Kearns, who two weeks ago signed a national letter of intent to swim in college. “I still love the sport, and I want to improve. Everyone has goals, but I just love swimming.
“I can’t imagine myself not swimming,” she added. “That’d be kind of scary.”
Raised in La Mirada, Kearns played multiple sports as a child. Ballet, dance and gymnastics were seasonal activities, and Kearns said she and her older brother took their share of swim lessons.
Kearns said at that age she enjoyed swimming more than basketball and soccer, adding that she wasn’t overly coordinated and veered away from sports “involving flying objects.”
By age 8, Kearns was a club swimmer, traveling the country as part of the Fullerton Aquatics Sports Team program. Lengthy club practices dictated her schedule growing up, but Kearns loved the program’s diversity and camaraderie. Swimming, she said, became a hobby worth her free time.
“Those years,” Kearns said, “were the best years of my life. The sense of camaraderie was indescribable. Everyone comes together and has a common passion, love for the sport.”
It took Kearns two years, however, to find her footing at Rosary, an all-girls high school.
She joined the school’s swim team her freshman year, but kept to herself. Still a part of the FAST program then, Kearns’ high school and club schedules often conflicted, resulting in missed varsity practices during swim season.
For that reason, Kearns felt intimidated and uncomfortable lending advice to elder teammates, a sentiment that, by her junior year, changed entirely.
“You never realize how much you know about something until someone asks you for help,” she said.
Rosary coach Rory Bevins would love nothing more than to take credit for what Kearns has accomplished under his stewardship.
He said an athlete of Kearns’ ilk can possess the natural inclination to be a swimmer, but will ultimately plateau without diligence. That, Bevins said, is where Kearns distances herself from her peers.
“She has the type of work ethic that can’t be taught,” said Bevins, in his second year coaching aquatics at Rosary. “She is the type of girl who will take her own work into her own hands.
“The way she works, the way she swims,” he added, “she has, by herself, earned every inch of success she has.”
Kearns, 18, has qualified for the CIF playoffs two years running, the lone swimmer at Rosary to do so.
This time last year, she began emailing college coaches inquiring about possible scholarship opportunities. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Utah reciprocated Kearns’ interest, and her final decision was based primarily on academics.
Kearns, a 4.0 student and Scholastic All-American, aspires to a career in nursing, and Utah offers pertinent curriculum. Kearns also said she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compete in the Pac-12 Conference for an ascendant Division I program.
“As a parent, I always wanted my kids to reach for the stars,” said Suzie Kearns, Isabella’s mother. “I mean, why not? She has the skills to do whatever she wants to do, and that shows in her ability to work through any problem – in or out of swim.”
For the better part of 12 years, Isabella Kearns has dedicated her mornings, afternoons and weekends to swimming.
She watches swim videos online and reads swim articles aplenty. If she’s not talking about swimming, she’s thinking about it.
Bevins called Kearns “the strongest leader” and “the best example” he has in his program, which features mainly novice swimmers. Kearns’ leadership, he explained, has fostered her teammates’ growth.
“It’s one thing to be as talented as she is,” Bevins said. “But she’s really good at being an older sister to the younger girls. She’ll take girls under her wing and show them the ropes.
“To have someone as fast as Bella, as good as Bella, and as friendly as Bella,” he added, “is a huge help for girls coming into the program.”