It’s been two-plus years since Sherwood High School senior Anna Kolanowski underwent left shoulder surgery in the fall of 2010 to repair a torn labrum, but barely a meet goes by where the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association’s record-holder in the 200-yard freestyle isn’t asked about it.
“People still ask me all the time, ‘How’s your shoulder, doesn’t it hurt when you swim?’” Kolanowski said.
But the University of Georgia recruit does not get frustrated or discouraged by the queries, rather they’re a reminder of her remarkable journey back, one even she questioned at times, she said.
Though life certainly would have been easier without the injury, she said the obstacles she had to overcome in the recovery process have made her stronger in every aspect.
A primarily butterfly and individual medley swimmer three years ago, Kolanowski has since emerged as one of the region’s best freestylers.
“I became a freestyler because it was the first stoke I could swim [after the surgery], so I really developed it. [The injury] made me more motivated when I got back into the water. It made me set higher goals for myself. I definitely think I am stronger, physically, too,” Kolanowski said.
The Warriors have reaped the benefits.
Kolanowski transferred to Sherwood from Our Lady of Good Counsel in 2011-12 just when the Warriors were in desperate need of a big scorer to replace the points lost by the graduation of Emily Ryczek, who is in her sophomore season at Virginia Tech.
“When you watch Anna swim — I love watching her swim — you can just tell she has a natural feel for the water. She is a really powerful swimmer who knows how to use her core. She just knows how to get the most power out of her body,” Sherwood coach Brendan Lees said.
Sherwood’s third-place finish at Saturday’s Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships was their best since 2004 and positioned the Montgomery County Division II Warriors as a contender at this year’s season-ending state championship at the end of the month.
The 2012 Metros 200-yard freestyle champion Kolanowski, who swam the 200-yard freestyle event against Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky (Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart) on Saturday — she finished second — has been the catalyst for Sherwood’s resurgence.
But the Warriors have also been bolstered by a balance of top-level talent and depth from a new crop of underclassmen that will likely keep the program afloat next winter.
Seniors Megan Conrad (Villanova recruit), who watched admiringly as her three older brothers swam for Sherwood, and Kylie Sheapp (Towson) have also signed letters of intent to swim at Division I programs in 2013-14.
Between Kolanowski, Conrad, who finished fourth in both the 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke on Saturday, and Sheapp, who also scored in the 100-yard freestyle at Metros and can also swim the 200-yard individual medley, the Warriors are proficient in just about every event.
Freshman Morgan Hill finished in the top six of both the 500-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly on Saturday.
“It’s great having these caliber swimmers on the team. It sets a good tone and example. Having swimmers you know can pull off first-place finishes gives you a lot of flexibility. I think people have taken notice and know to be on the lookout for us, which is exciting. It’s exciting just to be in the (state championship) conversation,” Lees said.
There was a time two years ago when Kolanowski was unsure of what her future in swimming would be. It’s turned out pretty well for her and Sherwood.
“I was worried [when I had surgery]. I was like, ‘What if I’m slower?’ But [being away] definitely gave me a better appreciation for the sport and I was ready to work hard to achieve my goals,” Kolanowski said.