It all started for Jill Southard when her father did a friend of his a favor. You see, his friend got a job teaching a swimming class at Clovis Community College and, to help build up the numbers in the class, dad got young Jill to sign up for the class.
Only around 11 years old, Jill did some swimming but she also did a lot of dawdling around with the teacher’s son — also the same age.
Now, five years later, the teacher is Vince de Maio, coach for the Clovis High swim team, his son Nick is his best swimmer on the CHS boys squad and Jill Southard may just be the top female athlete in the pool the Wildcats have ever had.
And she’s only a sophomore.
“Jill is very focused on swimming. She’s come around the last year or so to really realize what her potential is,” de Maio said. “Jill was always kind of dabbling in swimming, but I thought three years ago she’d be one of the best female swimmers to come through Clovis.
“You can just see her feel for the water, her balance in the water, is just excellent,” he added.
According to father Greg: “I was just trying to help boost the numbers (in de Maio’s CCC class). She and Nick would swim a little, play a little — until they woke up one morning and it was just work.”
But it’s just the kind of work with which Jill Southard thrives. Even when the Clovis High swim team was forced — thanks to the temporary closure of the Clovis Aquatic Center pool — to practice at 4:30 a.m., Jill “ she didn’t mind at all.
“I like it,” she said. “Because it gave me a lot of time to get ready for school — about an extra hour; we’d get out of practice around six.”
“Because the kids are so close, that’s where she wants to be,” Greg Southard “.
Although her preference for early, early morning wake-up calls puts her out of the ordinary as far as teenagers, or people in general, Jill Southard is like many her age in one respect. It matters what kind of clothing is worn and what that said about the individual.
Jill, who said she tries to dress “vintage” when she can, likes to watch television shows like “What Not to Wear” and, at least for now, is interested in pursuing a college degree (Lubbock Christian is her current choice) in interior design.
“She’s confident in herself; very confident in who she is, but she’s very conscientious about everything,” “ her mother, Mary Southard. “She is a funny girl too, I think. She makes people laugh.”
In the pool, Southard has qualified to swim at the state championships in two events: the 200- and 500-yard freestyles.
In the latter event, the CHS soph’s time is currently the sixth-best qualifying mark in New Mexico.
Southard said that it was only last year when she realized that she actually excelled in the sport, rather than being an average participant.
And de Maio couldn’t be happier about that.
“They (Jill and Nick de Maio) are the first age-group kids we’ve actually had come up through the system and that’s a big thing for any program,” Vince de Maio said. “They were young. And, when I took the program over, it was basically a recreational program. Not until all of those recreational swimmers are gone can you truly change the mentality.”