HARRISONBURG — Turner Ashby High School swim coaches Mike and Kim Floyd weren’t sure what they were getting when sophomore Ella Kasten transferred to TA.
The 16-year-old breaststroker/freestyler moved from Atlanta with her parents and three brothers last summer to be closer to family, and she was a swimming mystery.
The mystery didn’t last long.
“She’s quiet. She’s not a showy person. She’s just kind of there and kind of quiet, but she has an inner drive,” Mike Floyd said Saturday afternoon at the Valley District swim meet at James Madison University’s Savage Natatorium. “My first experience with her this year was she asked me to see the records. And I showed her the records that we currently had, and she said, ‘Well, I’m getting ready to swim this race,’ and then I showed her the record, and she said, ‘I’m going to get that.’”
It was the 100-meter freestyle on Dec. 5, and she did, breaking an eight-year-old record by nearly a minute. Megan DeSmit’s record was 1 minute, 6.59 seconds; Kasten broke it with a 1:05.40, one of three school records she set or helped set that day. (She was part of two record-breaking relays.).
“She’s like, ‘I think I can get that,’ and she came out and she got it,” Kim Floyd said. “And it wasn’t cocky. It was just like, ‘OK, I think I can get that.’ And I’ve never heard her say anything nasty. She’s always happy, she’s always smiling, just kind of laid back about things, and we love her, and it’s been great having her on the team. She’s really brought something to us.”
Kim Floyd said she first met Kasten when she was touring the Ashby pool while shopping for a summer swim-league home. Kasten was a year-round swimmer in Atlanta, where, she said, swimming is hyper competitive. In Harrisonburg, there is only one year-round swim team: the Valley Area Swim Team.
“The area of Atlanta, there were millions of teams,” said Kasten, an Atlanta native and science enthusiast. “I mean, meets were huge. There’s one team in Harrisonburg.”
On Saturday, Kasten helped the Knights’ girls to a second-place finish at the Valley meet, winning the 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard breaststroke. She took the 100 free with a time of 57.75 (Spotswood’s Emily Smith was second with a 59.74) and the 100 breaststroke with a 1:14.99 (Harrisonburg’s Sydney Little was second with a 1:16.86).
After the meet, one of Kasten’s teammate walked by her and just said, “She’s fast,” as if it was the most inarguable fact ever spoken aloud. And heading into next weekend’s conference meet at JMU — where the Knights will face swim power Western Albemarle, which is led by Division I prospect Remedy Rule — there probably aren’t many people who would argue, considering. Kasten has broken or helped break eight TA records this season.
Individually, Kasten holds the record for the 100-meter free, the 100-yard free (swimming it in 57.33 seconds on Dec. 7 to break Lauren Clague’s eight-year-old record of 1.00.37) and the 50-yard free (swimming it in 26.43 on Jan. 18 to break Missy Collier’s two-year-old record of 27.12).
With Kasten, the Knights have set school records in five relays: the 200-meter individual medley, 200-yard individual medley, 200-meter freestyle relay, the 200-yard freestyle relay and the 400-meter freestyle relay, which TA has broken twice, first on Dec. 5 and then on Jan. 9.
“I didn’t really know a whole lot about her, other than the first introduction,” Mike Floyd said. “And then for us, I just got home and I looked at Kim, and I said, ‘The swim gods have smiled on us — and it doesn’t often to us. We’ve had it happen; let’s see where it takes us and what it does for us.’”
Kasten said she started swimming at age 11 in Atlanta after taking ballet since she was 3. She said the ballet lessons helped her with body control and grace, things that apply to swimming.
“I think there is definitely some correlation between that,” Kasten said, “because I had a friend that I danced with for year, and switched over, [too].”
The ballet background especially helps the breaststroke, which is about patience and feel. If you don’t have those things, it’s possible to undercut the power of your kick with poor timing.
“When you swim breaststroke, it’s pull and breathe, kick and glide,” Kim Floyd said. “If you don’t hold your glide, you cut your kick off.”
Mike and Kim Floyd both described the breaststroke as a natural skill because of the feel required to be good at it — and Kasten certainly has the feel.
“She always knows where she’s at,” Mike Floyd said. “She’s [aware] in the water of what she’s doing and where she’s going. Some swimmers, they’re mad at the water and they just go, but she’s not like that. She’s more calculating. … Those [swimmers] aren’t patient can’t do the stroke. She’s patient.”