Ashley Mennenga’s drive to triumph over her rivals has always been incredible, but her determination to beat a shoulder injury might top anything she’s done for the Highland girls swimming team.
A state runner-up in the 100-yard backstroke last season and a four-time All-Ohioan who holds the Medina County record in the 100 butterfly (55.59), Mennenga was looking forward to her senior season.
Then her right shoulder acted up and she had to have surgery on Nov. 14. The rehab time just to get back into the pool is supposed to be three months. Mennenga was competing in the Suburban League Meet by Jan. 6.
“I’m very surprised,” Mennenga said. “Three months ago, I was sobbing when I thought my dream of going back to state was going to come to an end, but I’ve been blessed with an amazing support system in the Highland parents and in coaches that have been so incredibly flexible with getting me the yardage I need to be at. Especially my parents, who have been with me the entire way.”
Mennenga wound up becoming the first athlete to be a four-time winner in the 100 back at the SL Meet and teamed with Mindy Wilkes, Kylie Cook and Kylie Baker to set a school record in winning the 200 medley relay (1:54.36).
After that, Mennenga warmed up for the postseason by competing in duals with Copley and Medina (twice).
On Friday, the University of Cincinnati commit will compete in the Division I state meet in the 100 back for the fourth time after finishing runner-up to Brunswick’s Felicia Pasadyn at the Northwest District.
“She’s a really hard worker,” Hornets coach Steve Rhein said. “As she was getting better, her goal was to take little steps each time to possibly get back to state. When she came back and got cleared, she knew it was going to be a long road.
“Her recovery has been amazing. She’s really not 100 percent, but that’s her tenacity and grit to see where it goes. She’s going out and swimming and what comes, comes.”
Her recovery time has already blown the minds of her surgeons and physical trainers, who gave her the go-ahead with restrictions.
The 100 butterfly, where she finished seventh at state last season, was obviously out of the picture.
Where everyone else is swimming 5,000-6,000 yards in practice, Mennenga is only going 2,000-3,000 yards and even that is scaled down.
“She knows we have to build her back up,” Rhein said. “That takes a lot of time, especially with a swimmer of her caliber. She’s a 12-month-a-year swimmer. Where she’s at is amazing.
“The doctors are figuring that out, too. It’s a case of a surgery that happens to 40-year-olds. It’s supposed to be many, many months. It’s one month in a sling and one to three months before you get back in the water after that. It was three weeks in a sling and back in the water and kicking (for her).”
Mennenga’s patience is as much a reason for her successful return as her drive.
For the three-time All-Gazette selection, it’s not about winning as much as it is doing the best she can. If she wins and state qualifications come, that makes it even better.
“I wanted to keep it realistic and think whatever I do is great,” Mennenga said. “It was always in the back of my head if I could make it to Canton and be a four-year state qualifier that would be amazing, but I was like, ‘Let’s just get through a race.’”
Menenga will return to C.T. Branin Natatorium on Friday as the seventh seed in the back. If things play out that way, she’ll be satisfied.
“She’s an amazing talent and she has a lot of swimming ahead of her,” Brunswick coach Vince Colwell said. “Just being able to get through something like that and power through is just great to see.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.