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LARAYO’s swimming matriarch sets standard in the pool

LAPLACE — Michelle Jensen grew up juggling several sports but always held a love for competitive swimming.

Michelle Jensen

Her family was among the first to join LARAYO in LaPlace more than 40 years ago.

Jensen swam laps year-round, representing her school in the fall and LARAYO in the summer. She transitioned into a summer coaching position at age 18, when some athletes on swim team were only months younger than her.

Her 31st year as coach kicked off Thursday when the LARAYO Barracudas took on LaVacherie in the first River Parish swim league meet of the 2018 season.

Ending the meet with a combined  307-232 win, LARAYO is on track to uphold a nearly undefeated record.

The Barracudas have come out victorious at every annual swim invitational since 2001 after claiming titles for most of the 1990s.

This year’s invitational, themed Swim-i-Con in reference to Comic-Con, will be held July 6-8 at Ellington in Luling.

Success is exciting, but Jensen said the overriding goal is for every swimmer on the team to grow.

Michelle Jensen talks to swim team members during practice.

“I really enjoy it because swimming is such an important, lifelong skill,” Jensen said. “I see such a development in the children. You can take non-swimmers and beginners and watch them swim independently by the end of the summer.”

Specific goals may differ based on age and experience level, Jensen said. Veteran swimmers are vying to improve personal bests, while beginners find excitement in mastering technique.

During practice, swimmers are introduced to backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle. Stroke judges watching on the sideline are quick to disqualify swimmers for any errors, Jensen said, making precise technique especially important.

Though it’s too early to tell who will make waves this summer, Jensen looks forward to seeing more of Colden West, a 7-year-old swimmer who broke freestyle records last year among 5- and 6-year-olds.

During Thursday’s meet against LaVacherie, Colden performed well in the 25-yard free with a time of 18.05 seconds.

Ali Duhe, Cameron Bady, Zoe Zaidain and Kelsie Williams are among the many Barracudas who found success at the first meet.

Jensen said the 15-16 division takes a hit this season without veteran swimmer Emily Schexnayder, who currently focuses on her swim career at St. Charles Catholic.

“She was a record breaker pretty much every year,” Jensen said.

Through years of coaching at LARAYO, St. Charles Catholic and St. Joan of Arc, Jensen has met generations of swimmers.

“A lot of the people I swam with have children who swim now,” Jensen said. “Some of the children already finished, and I’m teaching some grandchildren now. It all comes full circle.”

She enjoys team camaraderie and the River Parish swim league camaraderie, since even faces on rival teams have become familiar in three decades’ time.

“These teams have been in the league for quite some time,” Jensen said.

“A couple have folded or moved to different leagues, but a lot of it is the same as when I was younger.”

LARAYO welcomes swimmers 18 and under, sometimes as young as 3 or 4 years old.

Registration closed this month for 2018 swim team, but Jensen said St. John the Baptist Parish community members may apply for a LARAYO membership this summer to be eligible for next year.

Located at 401 Bradford Place in LaPlace, LARAYO offers recreational sports and private events.

For more information, visit larayo.com/membership.