Chapel Hill: Sports

Maddie Homovich is making some waves

Maddie Homovich
Maddie Homovich Randy Young

Get the word to Garmin. Alert Google Earth. Notify Rand McNally.

Madison Homovich is now “on the map,” or at least one of those perused by swimming enthusiasts.

The unassuming Pittsboro eighth-grader is the latest young swimmer featured as “Swimmer of the Month” in the Swimming World Magazine April edition’s “Up and Comers” section, which also noted that the 14-year old “Maddie” is now swimming faster at her age than 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist Katie Ledecky did at the same age, wrote Shoshanna Rutemiller.

Thanks to recent performances in the 1,000-yard freestyle event in the Tom Dolan Invitational and in the 400-meter freestyle at the Arena Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, the North Carolina Aquatics Club swimmer is also ranked first in the nation in several races.

NCAC coach Kathy McKee wasn’t surprised by the acclaim directed at the humble Homovich.

“First of all, she has very great technique, she’s very coachable, and she has pretty high goals,” McKee said. “She’s process-driven. She knows reaching those goals doesn’t happen by accident, but there are things you have to do to get there. She works hard on race strategies.”

“I think I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a lot of talented athletes,” NCAC head coach Sean Quinn said, “but Maddie has amazing promise and a special combination: amazing talent along with an incredible work ethic and a commitment to doing whatever it takes to become even better.”

NCAC is a U.S. Swimming club based out of Koury Natatorium on the University of North Carolina campus. The club offers a year-round competitive swimming program geared toward teaching kids how to swim and developing their athletic abilities and fitness levels from beginners to high level athletes.

Quinn said Homovich, like many others who train with NCAC, provides an example for a program that carefully cultivates young talent.

“We really try to put the right amount of energy and planning into our program where we’ve made adjustments to our staff and practice structure to create the right foundation for these young athletes,” he said. “We’re confident that even the most talented swimmer — like Maddie — can benefit from that system, but also that every swimmer that comes along can maximize their potential.”

While talent is appreciated, it’s not the only hallmark of a great swimmer, Quinn added.

“Maddie’s extremely coachable,” Quinn said. “She’s a great teammate to her friends, and we’re just so lucky to have her on the team, and she makes us so proud. We’re very optimistic about what she can accomplish in the future.”

Finishing up her eighth grade year at the Woods Charter School in Pittsboro, away from the pool Homovich is a typical teen, with the occasional case of frazzled, chlorine-scented “pool hair.”

“That’s definitely (the worst),” Homovich said, rolling her eyes.

Surprisingly, however, the reticent teen lists physical education among her more challenging courses.

“I’m not that coordinated,” she said, laughing. “I think I’ll just stick to swimming.”

Still, while Homovich is affable and self-effacing out of the water, she’s all business in the pool.

“She comes to practice and she’ll be silly and have a good time. She’s a typical 13-year old girl,” McKee said, “but when the time comes to work hard, she focuses really well.”

With all the recent acclaim, Homovich’s mother isn’t blind to the level of inherent pressure on her daughter to produce and continue to improve.

“I do worry some about the pressure it puts on my daughter,” she said. “The whole article was a surprise for us, and it was fantastic, but we’re just sort of going with the flow and moving on toward the goals she’s set for herself.”

“She was definitely blown out of the water with some of the notoriety she’s gotten in the last year,” Maddie’s mother added, “but her coaches have kept her grounded, and they’ve made sure she’s understood that she is where she is thanks to her teammates.

“We’re just trying not to put any more pressure on her than she already puts on herself. We try to make light of stuff. It’s hard on parents: we want her to do well, but we also want her to enjoy what she’s doing.”

McKee said part of keeping her grounded was continuing to keep her focused on what’s directly ahead.

“She loves a challenge. She thrives with a challenge,” McKee explained. “She’s been in heats with Olympians, but she doesn’t let that freak her out. She just focuses on what she needs to be doing.”

What Homovich is doing with NCAC is training six evenings a week plus some mornings before school.

“We pick her up from school, take her to practice, and she usually gets home around eight o’clock,” Amy Homovich said. “It’s definitely time-consuming.”

But Maddie Homovich explained that it’s as much about fun for her as it is hard work and pressure.

“I started learning to swim when I was about four,” she said. “I remember going to lessons and really having fun, and I still look forward to it — the training and seeing all of my teammates. That’s the best part about practice: having fun with all of my friends.”

For all of Homovich’s prodigious exploits, McKee said there was still plenty of room for improvement.

“There are things we’re still working on with her technique and breathing patterns,” McKee said. “Middle distance to distance freestyle, 200 (butter)fly, and 400 IM: those are her best events. The breaststroke is the one we still have to conquer for the 400 IM though: that’s her weak link. Who knows what’s going to happen three years from now though. It’ll be fun to see where she goes.”

Homovich’s immediate goals will take her first across the state map to Charlotte and then across the U.S. map to California.

“I have a meet in May in Charlotte — the Ultra Swim, and that’s where a lot of national athletes and Olympians go to swim,” Homovich said. “But one of my biggest goals is to do well, improve, drop time, or place at a meet out in Irvine (California) which has the fastest 18-and-under swimmers in the country.”

As far as the distant future was concerned, Maddie’s mother said they are keeping plans open and are unfazed by the intrinsically predictive nature of her latest acclaim.

“Obviously, she doesn’t know what the future holds, but she’d love to go to a Division I school—she’s like a normal kid as far as that’s concerned,” she said.

Wherever Maddie Homovich’s talents lead in the future, it won’t take Google Earth to tell us that she’ll like be found in or near water.

“I think I’ll always enjoy the sports of swimming,” she said. “I don’t want to get to the point where I don’t enjoy it, so I’ll most likely stick with swimming.”