In the water, with swim goggles covering their eyes and only their head above the surface, it could be hard to tell Mary Marcoux and Taylor Newgaard apart.
But it isn’t just swimming for rival high schools that makes them different. They come from opposite swimming backgrounds.
Newgaard, a Desert Vista senior, is a veteran year-round distance swimmer who doesn’t have an off-season and is rarely out of the pool.
Until this fall, Marcoux, who is a senior sprinter at Mountain Pointe, hadn’t taken a competitive stroke in almost 10 years before she showed up for tryouts.
Despite their varied experience, both are headed to the state 5A-I girls swimming championships Friday and Saturday at the Kino Junior High School pool in Mesa.
For Newgaard, the grueling 500-yard freestyle is more like a sprint event.
“I’m better at long races,” she said. “I’m more of a miler, but in high school 500 yards is the longest race I can do.”
Newgaard was sixth in the state championships as a junior last season when the Thunder placed second behind perennial champion, Phoenix Xavier, and finished fourth in the Fiesta Region meet last weekend in Chandler.
“I feel like I’m stronger this year,” she added, “so I expect to go a lot faster.”
The entire Thunder girls team should be faster, Newgaard added.
“We have a stronger girls team this year,” she said. “We had a lot of freshmen come in this year so we’ve gained a lot more depth. I’m really excited for this weekend.”
While Newgaard will be in her fourth state high school meet, every meet is a new experience for Marcoux.
This time last year she was in her third year of playing the French horn in the Mountain Pointe marching band and getting ready for the girls soccer season.
“I decided not to do band this year and thought I’d try swimming or cross country,” Marcoux said. “I hadn’t been in a pool since I guess I was about 8 years old and I don’t even remember what club it was.”
She has been able to manage that kind of flexibility throughout her high school career.
Marcoux started playing soccer before she was swimming and is expected to be the starting goal keeper on the Pride soccer team.
She also runs sprint events for the Pride in track, played basketball when she took a couple of years off from soccer when she was younger and is a member of the National Honor Society.
Swimming turned out to be more of an athletic challenge than Marcoux expected.
“I thought I was in pretty good shape from soccer and track, but swimming is hard and it takes a different kind of endurance,” she said. “You use your entire body.”
Between school and athletics Marcoux has full schedule from fall through spring.
“You know you’re going to be busy so you learn to manage your time,” she said. “But time does seem to fly.”
Although she hadn’t been around a pool for years, Mountain Pointe swim coach Steve Mancuso knew he had a keeper land at his doorstep this fall.
“I could tell she was going to be good when she showed up for time trials on the last day of tryouts,” Mancuso said.
For the first time in years the state 5A-I swim meet will move out of the Mona Plummer Aquatic Complex at Arizona State University and into one of the newest swim facilities in the state that was completed just before Memorial Day this year.