N.C. State swimming coach Braden Holloway surprisingly found himself following Middle Creek High’s football success last season. Well, more specifically, he kept up with the Mustangs through Julia Poole’s Twitter feed.
Poole is a Middle Creek senior bound for N.C. State as a nationally-ranked swimmer and three-time N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state champion. She seeks her third consecutive state title in the 200-yard individual medley and second in a row in the 100 breaststroke in the 2017 finals Friday at Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary.
But despite lofty success and a promising future in an individual sport, Poole’s high school days have been about competing for Middle Creek and supporting peers.
“She would tweet out, ‘We’re all getting together for the football game and all wearing red,’ ” Holloway said. “You could tell she had a lot of pride in her school. She sent out pictures of the wrestling team on social media. Right out of the gates recruiting her, we knew she cares about her school and more than just herself.”
Poole’s appreciation echoes Nick Stachowiak, a 2016 Middle Creek grad that won three NCHSAA 4A state boys singles tennis titles. Stachowiak, now a Duke freshman, often spoke of the pride he felt winning for the Mustangs as opposed to as an individual.
“I enjoy representing Middle Creek,” Poole said, “and it’s special to win for your school. Middle Creek’s teachers care about you, and they support you. There are a lot of students that are behind you and that believe in you.”
Her grassroots persona also led to discovering swimming as her natural sport. When her older sister Leigh Anne joined the Glenridge Gators neighborhood youth swim team, Julia told her parents she wanted to sign up, too. The two sisters and their parents, Rich and Carol, knew little about swimming at the time.
Leigh Anne eventually moved onto other interests, but Julia soon gained attention at the annual Cary City Swim Invitational, a venerable youth event that celebrated its 36th anniversary last summer. Adults with an eye for the sport informed Julia’s parents their daughter might be something special.
“I wasn’t winning races, but I was close to beating year-round swimmers,” Julia said. “Some people said I had natural ability.’”
Poole joined the Marlins of Raleigh as a year-round swimmer. She began to routinely win and hasn’t slowed down.
“By the time I was 11, I was hooked on swimming,” Poole said. “I began to challenge myself, and I really liked that aspect of it. I love swimming, and I love that I’ve been able to make lifelong friends. I’m still friends with people I started swimming with when I was 11 and 12. It’s a fun and unique sport.”
This is her fourth NCHSAA 4A state finals. In Poole’s previous three state 200 IM finals, she has placed second, first and first. In three 100 breast finals, it’s sixth, second and first.
Already, Poole has earned automatic All-American honors for the third straight year with times in last week’s NCHSAA 4A East Region. She won the 200 IM in 2 minutes, 1.87 seconds and the 100 breast in 1:02.83. She easily beat the automatic All-America standards of 2:02.21 and 1:03.03, respectively.
As a junior, her 200 IM time was good for a state record, but one day later in the 3A state finals Caroline Hauder of Marvin Ridge lowered the state mark to 1:58.85. Both athletes are competing in this weekend’s respective state finals.
Poole’s USA Swimming credentials rose to a high enough level last summer to compete in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Neb. She has speed and versatility as an IM champion.
“Julia can help us in a lot of ways,” Holloway said. “Her versatility is a big key to her success.”
Despite the heady Olympic trials company, Poole returned home grounded to her innocent swimming roots. One reason for signing with N.C. State was that she sensed a community feeling on the team.
“I wasn’t thinking about a college scholarship when I started this journey, but my times kept getting better at the different age group levels,” Poole said. “N.C. State has great coaches, and they were interested in me early. I visited a lot of schools, but (the N.C. State) team atmosphere was one of a kind. That’s what I was looking for.”
N.C. State also is close to home and not too far removed from her roots with the Glenridge Gators, Cary Swim Invitational and Middle Creek High.