Nate Smith followed his sister into the pool.
Smith — a senior sprint swimmer at the Academy at the Lakes — already is an accomplished swimmer, just like his sister: former Wildcat McKenna, now a junior swimming star at Duke University.
“She kind of introduced me and my family to swimming,” Nate said. “My sister just hopped in and was a natural, and I followed in her footsteps. … So, I’m just trying to live up to what she was because we talk about swimming, about technique — we have very similar techniques, and she’s always helped me, and I’ve helped her, too.
“I’ve got my swimming lane, but I wouldn’t mind following her because she did pretty well,” he continued. “I definitely wouldn’t mind following her to Duke, if I could manage that, then that would be amazing.
“But I have my own senior year, just like she did, and I would like to get a nicer medal than last year.”
While Smith has made states in all four of his high school seasons, it was last season in 2022 when he put up his best finishes at the Class 1A state championships — claiming seventh in the 50 meter (21.31) and 10th in the 100 meter (47.43).
It was a huge jump from his sophomore year when, in 2021, he was 15th and 13th in the 50 and 100, respectively. Now, Nate is eyeing to match, or top, what McKenna did her senior year at states — third place finishes in both the 50 (23.15) and the 100 (50.34).
To accomplish that — or achieve even more in November — Smith knows it will take tenacious training, especially fine-tuning his starts, turns and technique.
“I’ve never been an underwater swimmer,” he said. “I dove in and came right up, so I’ve been focusing on my underwater kicks and at practice. I’ve been doing weighted underwater work and (using) parachutes, to improve technique and tempo. I’ve been focused on the 50 because underwater makes up a huge portion of the 50.”
While Smith has great work ethic, he’s also had a rotating door of coaches at Academy at the Lakes. He’s had some great coaching from the Florida Elite Swimming Club at the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex’s pool, but he’s also taken on the role of not only coaching himself, but younger swimmers, as well.
“I think every year I’ve had a different coach,” he said. “It’s kind of found me adapting to a different coaching style, but I’ve also found a way to coach myself, so it’s not so chaotic — but I have loved helping people learn their own way through that, just like I did.
“Anywhere I know something, I make sure to say something, because this is what this is all about: self-improvement in your own style,” he added. “I do feel like a coach, since I’ve been the oldest on the team for a while, so I’ve got all the little secrets going on.”
His current coach, now of two years, Anjel Clemente, agrees — Nate is as much as coach as he is.
“(Nate and McKenna) kind of grew up running and establishing the program, really since they were in middle school,” Clemente said. “Even as an underclassman, he took the reins of being a leader and setting the precedent of what the program should be and what it wanted — he’s a fantastic leader.
“Before I got here, (the program) was, I was told, going through a coach a year, so that’s pretty hard for the kids to get continuous leadership. That was something I wanted to encourage, but for him, he started off leading by example, but as he got older, he did more so by being vocal and leading that way.
“He makes sure kids are learning the things when they don’t have a coach in the water because he’s been like a coach in the water.”
Clemente, who also coaches swimming at Cypress Creek High in Wesley Chapel, does recognize how Nate is following in McKenna’s wake, but definitely points out he’s made a name for himself with impressive seasons.
“He is one of the best in the state,” Clemente added. “It says a lot when he’s competing in the fastest class in the state — for him to be able to stay at the top and compete at the top and progress at the top. It just shows you how good he is.
“It’s his technique, and fine-tuning it, and really nailing out the fine details of a perfect, quick race — that’ll be the difference from something like sixth place to third place or even higher.”
As the season plays out, Nate will continue to work. He’ll hope to continue to improve and definitely look to follow his sister’s lead to a great state finish.
“I feel I have already improved some,” Nate said. “I feel I know what it takes since I’ve been seeing it for a while now. I saw it through years of watching my sister and even helping out coaching, so now, I just need to do it.”
Class 1A Swimming State Championships
When: Nov. 4
Where: FAST (Florida Aquatics Swimming & Training), 4635 SW 67th Ave., Ocala
Info: Visit FHSAA.com/sports/swim
Published September 27, 2023