Nova Southeastern University’s Hollie Bonewit-Cron is a conservative coach when it comes to praising her swimmers.
But even she won’t argue that newcomer Thiago Sickert can be the best swimmer in school history and could leave NSU as a three-time Division II national champion.
Mind you, Sickert has yet to win even one title of any kind — he arrived on campus only four months ago.
But his talent cannot be denied — he won seven races in his first four meets with NSU. When he was named the Sunshine State Conference Swimmer of the Week in October, he was the first NSU swimmer to earn that honor.
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He has since won that honor three more times, and the season doesn’t end until March11-14 with the national meet at Indianapolis.
“I really think he can win [multiple] NCAA individual titles,” Bonewit-Cron said of her sprinter. “He’s more versatile than your typical swimmer. He can swim anything from freestyle to individual medley as well as his predominant stroke, which is the butterfly. He can even swim the backstroke.
“He’s also very smart and coachable. If I tell him he needs to correct something, he makes a change immediately.”
Such maturity can be explained by his age. At 26, he is the oldest swimmer in school history.
“My teammates call me grandpa,” Sickert said.
Sickert, who is technically a sophomore even though this is his first year as a college student because he took some courses in his native Brazil, said his father had encouraged him for years to make the leap to the United States.
“But I was scared I wouldn’t be able to speak English,” said Sickert, who in three months already has an impressive command of his new language.
By delaying his college career, Sicket made himself ineligible for DivisionI, which has an age cut-off of 24.
If not for those rules, Sickert likely would have been swimming DivisionI. Instead, he wound up at NSU, which only started its swim program in 2010-2011.
Sickert’s title chase will begin in the spring. The DivisionII national championships are set for March11-14 at Indianapolis, and Sickert said he is most likely to swim the 100 free and the 100 fly at that competition.
Ultimately, Sickert, who is a business major, wants to go into the family business, which is manufacturing gym equipment. He might even open his own gym in South Florida.
In the meantime, though, he is serving as great example for his teammates.
“He has such a great feel for the water — so in tune with his body,” Bonewit-Cron said. “But it’s not just about Thiago and his swimming. He’s a great mentor for the guys.”
For example, Bonewit-Cron and the rest of her staff are helped by numerous gadgets, including Go Pro cameras that track the swimmers’ movements underwater and sync up to the coaches’ phones in real time.
But even with all that modern technology, there are times that Sickert can spot quicker than what a coach may see.
“Thiago will see something [and tell a teammate], ‘Hey, why don’t you work on this?’” Bonewit-Cron said. “The guys will listen to his feedback because he has the credentials to back it up.
”He’s like a father to them.”