In the breaststroke, timing is everything. That means Will Ho is like a fine Swiss watch.
The breaststroke is the synchronization of four parts — pulling, breathing, kicking and gliding — all in a specific order to achieve maximum speed. At Woodbury, nobody has done it better than Ho, a junior who broke the school’s 16-year-old record in the event.
“For me, breaststroke is really a combination of things that have to come together perfectly,” Ho said. “It’s really integrated. If there’s a weak link in your stroke, it’s really going to show.”
Woodbury coach Marty Hoven, in his fifth year leading the Royals, said breast-strokers need a special feel for the stroke.
“It’s the most complicated stroke, I would say, in competitive swimming,” Hoven said. “It’s hard to teach the finer points. Will seems to have it down.”
This season Ho is gunning for a third consecutive trip to the Class 2A state meet and hoping for a top-eight finish that would earn him all-state honors. He took 11th last year with a time of 1:00.00 in the finals.
His record-breaking performance came at the Maroon and Gold Invitational at the University of Minnesota on Jan. 3. Ho swam a time of 58.45 seconds to win the event, shattering Woodbury’s previous record of 58.75, held by Mark Maynard since 1999.
Hoven said Ho has an exceptional kick, sometimes called a “frog kick.”
“He keeps himself tight in a streamlined position and doesn’t have any drag coming from his stroke,” Hoven said. “He’s really gotten the stroke down, technically, really well on top of being gifted with that kick. His start has gotten a lot better, too, over the years.”
Ho’s time is the fastest reported in Minnesota high school swimming so far this season. Tiernan Foster-Smith of Breck/Blake, a Class 1A co-op, has the second-fastest reported time at 59.06. Last year’s Class 2A state champion, Brenner Hohenstein of Maple Grove, is third at 59.07. Hohenstein swam a 57.08 in last year’s state finals.
Ho said he still has room to improve, however, noting his conditioning should get better.
“I’m hoping to drop another half-second or so,” Ho said. “I definitely think my back half can be stronger.”
Ho began swimming by taking lessons at a young age. He also trained to be a lifeguard, but said he was too small to pick up bricks from the bottom of the pool so he could never get past a certain level.
Ho joined the South East Metro Sharks (SEMS) swim club in Woodbury when he was 8.
“I’ve always been a little bit better at breaststroke than my other strokes, but it really took off when I was about 13 or 14 and went to state for club for the first time,” Ho said.
Ho, who has grown to 5 feet 11, said he lifted a lot of weights this past summer, gaining strength and speed.
“The strength that I have now I think is what helped me break the record,” he said.
Though the breaststroke is his forte, Ho has been developing his individual medley — a combination of freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly and backstroke — and hopes to some day excel in the event as well.
Ho is also part of the Royals’ medley relay team, along with fellow junior Austin Kinzie and sophomores Eric Fong and Eric Sortland.
“We’re trying to work that into a state-contending relay,” Hoven said. “The three other guys certainly mean a lot to that, but Will as a dominant breaststroker helps us a lot.”
Starting out at Woodbury, Ho looked up to 2012 graduates Victor Lugg and Greg Norsten, who is the Royals’ most recent state champion. However, Hoven said Ho has now taken the lead role.
“He’s really improved,” Hoven said. “Breaststroke has been a strength at Woodbury. It’s good to have Will here, keeping it going.”