Soft-spoken co-captain motivates swimmers

Jordan Jacobo

Sports editor

Junior swimmer Yusuke Kobayashi doesn’t necessarily inspire with his voice. Nor is that his focus.

The soft-spoken co-captain for the men’s swim team aims to lead by doing, by working hard and by prospering in the pool.

For much of the early part of the season, Kobayashi has done just that. He has set his sights on Pacific Lutheran University sophomore swimmer Jay Jones. After earning the 200 butterfly title his freshman year, Kobayashi was beat out by Jones last season.

Kobayashi won the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly, and helped LinfieldĀ  win the 200 medley relay against The College of Idaho
on Nov. 15.

However, at the Northwest Conference Invitational on Nov. 21-22, Kobayashi couldn’t muster enough speed for a victory. He finished second to Jones in the 200 butterfly, touching the wall more than eight seconds slower than Jones.

Kobayashi also finished fourth in the 200 freestyle and second in the 100 butterfly.

With a six-week break until the next meet of the season, Kobayashi has a chance to refocus and adjust his training regimen to heat up as he nears the conference championships in mid-February.

But he’s not as focused on the individual results as one might think, he said. Team mentality is something he has learned to embrace since graduating from Kaiser High School in Honolulu as an all-league MVP.

“I just try to lead by example,” Kobayashi said. “Since I’ve been swimming in college, I’ve learned to swim more for the team.”

Head coach Gary Gutierrez said he has enjoyed watching Kobayashi grow into the leader he has become in the pool.

Butterfly swimmers can use power or finesse to be successful, Gutierrez said; Kobayashi maintains the latter, often meeting with the coach to work on his technique, fine-tuning his stroke for maximum speed.

As for not being the loudest voice on the team, that’s not a problem for Kobayashi, Gutierrez said.

“This team has got sort of a quiet closeness about them,” he said. “They’re not as outgoing and happy-go-lucky as others. They are a little more cerebral and serious, but they are a really tight group.”

Kobayashi wasn’t recruited by Linfield, but just the same Gutierrez was happy to welcome him to the team after seeking him out once he was accepted.

He calls Kobayashi one of the most dedicated athletes in the pool, echoing the lead-by-example
sentiment.

“He really wants to take back the 200 fly and break the school record,” Gutierrez said. “He’d like to make it to nationals, as well.”

Kobayashi said one of the best parts of the team has been that they are not entirely focused on athletics. The coaches and players care about each other on an academic and personal
level, he said.

His training partner this year, senior freestyle swimmer Josh Parfitt, has been his biggest role model during his college career, Kobayashi said.

“He’s by far the hardest worker on the team,” Kobayashi said.

Parfitt and Kobayashi are working together, pushing each other, with the common goal of qualifying for nationals. Since Parfitt is the team’s only senior, after this year the bulk of the leadership responsibility will likely fall on Kobayashi and junior Dominic Rieniets.

As more than one-third of the team are freshmen this year, Kobayashi said he has placed a focused emphasis on making sure
everyone feels that they are working toward a common goal of making the program successful.

Unity has emerged as Kobayashi’s main theme, one which he embodies as he swims for the team, not for himself.

“When you’re swimming for other people,” Kobayashi said, “You have a bigger drive to improve.”

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