Few freshman swimmers find themselves in the position Cherokee’s Lydia Palmer was in at the 2019 NJSIAA Meet of Champions.
Having qualified for the finals of the 100-yard breaststroke in her first year of high school, Palmer was in a duel with Cherry Hill East standout and South Jersey Sports Weekly’s 2019 Girls Swimmer of the Year Grace Yoon for first place and the title of breaststroke state champion.
“I remember coming around the third turn and seeing her,” Palmer said. “We always raced at practice and meets, so it was nice racing her.”
In the final 50 yards, Palmer gained a bit of ground on Yoon as the two approached the wall. Yoon would end up finishing ahead of Palmer by just 14 hundredths of a second to win the race.
Palmer may have come up just short of a victory, but her ability to swim at a high level as a freshman was eye opening. Palmer not only finished second in the breaststroke at states, but she also placed fifth in the 200-yard individual medley to announce her arrival as one of South Jersey’s best. What’s even crazier is Palmer may not be close to reaching her potential.
Girls’🏊♀️: HUGE day for freshman Lydia Palmer placing 2nd in the state in the breast stroke and 5th in the 200 IM breaking the school record in both events. We are proud of you! pic.twitter.com/UCGgzhzjkj
— Always_a_Chief (@Cherokee_HS) March 3, 2019
“I think she is someone that will use that to help fuel her for years to come,” head Coach Chelsea Latini said of Palmer’s performance at states. “Placing that high as a freshman, I think she has so much more room for growth as a swimmer. She’s going to do a lot of great things over the next three years.”
A swimmer since the age of 3, Palmer has been involved in competitive swimming nearly her entire life. She began swimming at Jersey Wahoos and competed at the club until switching over to Greater Philadelphia Aquatic Club last summer.
Latini described Palmer as a versatile swimmer who can perform at a high level in any event. But Palmer’s specialty is the breaststroke, an event in which she said she’s always been strong. Last summer, Palmer competed in the Speedo Junior National Championships in the breaststroke, finishing in 28th place in the 100-meter race.
Lydia Palmer took GOLD again with this one coming in the girls Open 100 breast in a new GPAC record of 1:03.04!!! This is after swimming a mile and 100 free!!
— GPAC Swimming (@GPACSwimming) December 16, 2019
Her speed in the breaststroke has also made Palmer a top swimmer in the individual medley. Backstroke is the part of the individual medley Palmer has needed to work on the most in recent years.
“I’ve practiced it a lot and I worked on my underwater work and my tempo,” she said about her backstroke.
Palmer has improved her versatility even more since joining GPAC, competing in longer freestyle distance events in addition to her usual breaststroke and IM events. In a recent club meet in Pittsburgh, Palmer took first place in the 1,650-yard freestyle in addition to winning both the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke events.
“She is just a very versatile swimmer where we can put her wherever we need her,” Latini said. “Even though she does focus on the 200 IM and the 100 breast, she’s someone who can also swim really well in the 500 free, 200 free, 50, 100. She’s beneficial no matter where we put her.”
Girls swimming upsets 2 seed Kingsway 87-83 to move on to the sectional final. Lydia Palmer breaks Amanda Martins 37 year old school record in the 100 Breaststroke!
— Cherokee Chief (@ChiefsAthletics) February 7, 2019
Palmer doesn’t get overly focused on her times when competing at Cherokee, saying she’s mostly focused on placing first in her events and earning the Chiefs points. Latini described Palmer as a team player and believes her impact on the team goes well beyond how she performs in the pool.
“It’s so fun for (the swimmers) to see the different levels of experience that our team has, especially for the new girls that never swam before,” Latini said. “They look at the club swimmers, especially Lydia, and say, ‘Wow, this is what hard work looks like. This is what determination looks like.’
“We have a history of having a lot of good club swimmers,” Latini added. “We graduated a bunch a few years ago. I think Lydia has been maybe one of the strongest competitors we’ve had come through in the last few years.”
After a successful freshman year, Palmer hopes to do even better at the 2020 NJSIAA Meet of Champions. She wants to improve on her fifth-place finish in the individual medley from last year and hopes to again contend for the breaststroke state title.
“This year, I want to try and go faster than I did last year,” Palmer said. “Last year, I would (swim) around the same times for each of the meets.
“This year, I want faster times.”