Jenna Marsh has set the bar very high.
So high, in fact, that she hasn’t yet been able to reach the bar during a whirlwind senior season at Billings Central. But the season is not over yet.
“It’s been a strange season, really,” said Marsh after finishing a Central practice at the MSU Billings pool. “It’s been stressful because I’ve had so much going on and I haven’t been able to swim the times I’ve wanted to.
“But it’s also been great because a lot of good things have happened and my teammates are so fun. I’m definitely still motivated … I’m excited to see what will happen at state.”
The state swim meet is where Marsh has been at her best. In three seasons at Central, Marsh has not only won all six races she’s been in — she’s established a state record every time.
As a freshman, she won the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard freestyle (51.45 seconds). As a sophomore and junior, she won the 50-yard freestyle (23.52) and 100-yard butterfly (56.10). The state records in all three events are hers, and she’ll be chasing two of them — she hasn’t yet decided which two — at the state meet Feb. 14-15 in Butte.
“Time-wise, I think this season has been a little frustrating for Jenna,” said Central coach Brenden Smith, who is also Marsh’s coach with the Billings Aquatic Club team. “She’s had a great season, she just hasn’t hit the times that she wants. Jenna is such a competitor, though … I know state will bring out her best.”
Marsh’s fall practice schedule was interrupted by recruiting visits to four Division I campuses on consecutive weekends in October and November. She visited Bowling Green, Utah, Seattle University and Notre Dame.
She eventually narrowed her decision to Utah and Notre Dame, and on Nov. 15 she signed a letter of intent to swim at Utah.
“The whole process was crazy,” said Marsh. “It was a lot of fun, it was just crazy to take it all in … especially on four weekends in a row.
“I just loved the atmosphere at Utah. I seemed to fit in so well with their team and their coaches. And I love the mountains … that was a big advantage that Utah had over Notre Dame for me.”
In making her decision, Marsh sought the advice of Smith as well as four former BAC teammates who are current or former Division I swimmers — Jordan Denny (Wyoming), Brenna Boese (Northern Colorado), Keegan Kampschroer (Wisconsin) and Allie Dimich (Seattle U).
“They all had great advice and positive things to say. They helped me a lot,” said Marsh. “Utah just turned out to be the best fit for me.
“The whole process was pretty amazing, starting on July 1st (the first day that Division I coaches are allowed to call recruits). I got like nine calls that day … it was crazy. And exciting.”
Dealing with it
Marsh’s journey to becoming a Division I swimmer is most remarkable because she has a condition which prevents her lungs from fully expanding.
Marsh describes it as a “misaligned spine,” which causes her rib cage, shoulders and collarbones to compress her torso. Stretching exercises help — Smith calls them “pretzel stretches” — but Marsh still needs to pop out of the pool a couple of times during each practice to puff on an inhaler.
“It’s just something I’ve learned to live with,” said Marsh. “It’s gotten a little bit easier every year just because I get more used to it. It was definitely a little scary to bring up when I was talking to the college coaches, but they were all really good about it.
“The Utah coaches said their doctors and trainers would work with me. They just really seemed to understand that it’s who I am and it’s something I’ve always had to deal with.”
A fun finish
Without hesitation, Marsh said the best part of her senior season has been her teammates.
In Butte, the Rams will be seeking their sixth straight Class A girls team title and fifth straight boys title. And they’ll be having fun doing it.
“This year’s team has some of the weirdest kids I’ve ever met,” laughed Marsh. “Weird in a good way … we’ve had so much fun this year. You really never know what’s going to happen next with this team.
“For my senior year, I couldn’t have asked for better teammates. It’s fun to come to the pool every day.”
Smith said he’s noticed Marsh’s connection with her teammates this winter.
“She’s really focused on the team this year, which is great,” said Smith. “When a kid is headed off to swim Division I, sometimes they kind of check out of the team stuff when they’re seniors. But Jenna has really had fun with this group and she’s a great role model.
“She’s got a chance to win eight (individual) state titles, which is amazing. She’s right at the top of the list of the best swimmers I’ve coached, and she’s also one of the best teammates.”