GREENFIELD — Whether it’s number of strokes, splits, the turn or the kicks, Greenfield-Central Norah Johnson wants that information.
The Cougars’ sophomore swimming standout is coming off an outstanding second season at the high school level and is the Daily Reporter’s 2020-21 Girls Swimming Athlete of the Year.
Johnson, also a state qualifier as a freshman, qualified for the IHSAA state meet in four events, and finished with an area-best 13th place in the 100-yard breaststroke.
“She is very detailed,” Greenfield-Central girls swimming coach Emily Logan said. “When you have high-level athletes, you can have some physically gifted and you can have some mentally gifted and the rare ones that are both. Zach Cook (a G-C 2017 state champion for the boys team) was one of those. He could count his strokes, know when it is good day and not a good day. Norah is very much the same way. She wants the details of that.”
Logan gave an example of when her husband, G-C boys coach Mark Logan, was breaking down a Johnson performance in the 100-yard freestyle at the Hoosier Heritage Conference Meet.
Johnson was edged out by .05 seconds (54.26 seconds to 54.31 seconds) for the win by Yorktown’s Ellie Alexander.
He showed her that the splits were similar. The strokes were similar, but there was one difference. It was in the kick.
“(Norah) very much analyzes and wants to know the science behind it, the details, the technique and how can every last, little bit make a difference,” Emily said. “She’s also one to work at it. You can detail it all you want but if you are not going to work on it, it is not going to make a difference. Not only does she ask about it, learn about it, but she works on it.”
Later in the season, Johnson swam a 53.88 to win the sectional. She cut that time in the state prelims, too, with a 53.58.
“I analyze my stroke technique a lot,” Johnson admits. “I pay attention to my stroke count in practice. If I take more or less strokes on certain days, I know if I’m OK or if I am having an off day. I really pay attention to all of the small details. The timing into the walls into the turn, how hard you push off the wall, it really is all the small things.”
It’s got her pretty far, and she’s only a sophomore.
While she showed great improvement in the freestyle sprint, the 100 breaststroke is Johnson’s favorite.
In that same conference meet where she was runner-up in the freestyle, she picked up the most-impressive win of the evening in her marquee event. She took the top spot in the breaststroke by more than seven seconds. It was the largest margin of victory in any race that night, regardless of distance.
She finished in 1:05.66, with plenty of room ahead of second-place Neely Agnew of Yorktown, who touched the wall in 1:12.74.
“I had been training really hard this season, but I always kept looking at sectional and state for me to drop a significant amount of time,” Johnson said. “The conference, I really surprised myself with how well I did there.”
Johnson said she did not realize how big an advantage she had on the entire field until she finished the race.
“I got to the wall I looked around and I was like, ‘Oh!’”
That impressive win was a sign that even bigger things were soon to come.
“The light in her eyes when she swam that race (at conference) was like, ‘Oh!,’” Emily Logan said, giving the same reaction Johnson had when she finished the race. “The conference showed she could excel at a high level. That was the next boost for her, where she knew she could be up there at that top 16 at state.”
The sectional was big for all of the Cougars, winning their eighth straight. Johnson, along with winning and qualifying for the state meet in the two individual events, was part of the Cougars’ victorious 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay, also earning spots in the state prelims.
“I set pretty high goals for myself coming into this season,” Johnson said. “I knew what times I wanted to go. I knew what I wanted compared to sectional and compared to the state. I feel I did pretty well overall.
“I set a goal to make it into the consolation heat at state and I did that with the help of my coaches and my teammates pushing me along the way. I’m really thankful to all of them to help me get there.”
Like most high-driven athletes, Johnson wants more.
Already a part of two relay school records, set during her freshman season, Johnson would like school records in her two individual races.
She’s very close, too.
Her career-best 100 freestyle time of 53.58 seconds isn’t far off the mark set by good friend and former teammate Anne Marie DeKeyser, who bested a 22-year old record of Andrea Stouder at the 2020 state prelims with a time of 52.99.
Stouder still owns the mark in the 100 breaststroke, now the oldest remaining record on the G-C board. Another one of Johnson’s friends and former teammates Megan Coffin, just missed the mark in 2020 by .07. Coffin swam a 1:04.67, while the mark is at 1:04.6.
Johnson swam her personal best mark of 1:04.84 in the consolation state finals.
Determined, detailed and goal-oriented, Johnson looks forward to beating those records and has some big goals set for her and her teammates.
“As a team I think we did really well (this year),” Johnson said. “We had a lot of time drops. We won sectional and sent quite a few girls to state this year. I think that’s all you can ask for in a team.”
“Swimming is such a cool sport,” Johnson added. “You have your goals as a team and you have your goals as an individual. For team goals (next year) it would be winning conference, winning sectional, and getting more girls in state, and, individually, getting this certain time and place this in state. It’s so cool, you can have the best of both worlds.”