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Canadians major factors in ISL, FINA World Cup competitions

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INDIANAPOLIS/BUDAPEST – Canadians played a major role to help Energy Standard swim to victory as the first-ever International Swimming League match concluded Sunday in Indianapolis.

Kayla Sanchez and Penny Oleksiak of the High Performance Centre – Ontario closed out Energy Standard’s winning mixed freestyle relay to extend the team’s lead late in Sunday’s match.

Earlier in the day, their HPC-Ontario training partner Hanna Henderson captured her first senior international medal at the FINA World Cup in Budapest.

Sanchez was fresh off a third-place finish in the 200-m individual medley, and returned to the water to swim the third leg  of the mixed relay and keep her team in the lead. Oleksiak followed as the anchor to clinch the win.

“It was really fun. I didn’t really know what to do once I dived in except for try to hold on,” said Oleksiak, who swam alongside HPC-Ontario teammate Rebecca Smith of Red Deer, Alta., who anchored the other Energy Standard squad to third.

“We were moving pretty quick and it’s awesome to have that many 100 freestyler men and 100 freestyler women,” Oleksiak said. “It was very exciting and it was fun to be part of a really cool team. We’re all learning to bond a little more because it a very mixed team with people from like every country around the world almost. It’s a good time.”

About 1,400 fans filled the Indiana University Natatorium for the second of two days of fast-paced, finals-only short-course swimming. The event features full team introductions, light shows and video boards, with swimmers competing for points for their respective teams. A live DJ performed throughout, with music continuing even during races and the only quiet moments coming at the “take your mark” just before the start of each race.

Teammates swim beside each other, with two from each of four teams making up an eight-lane final for each race, and swimmers not competing gathered in poolside team boxes to cheer on their teammates.

With the relays counting for double points, Energy Standard held off a charge from the Cali Condors, the other team in which Canadians featured prominently. Kylie Masse of Windsor, Ont., turned in a second-place finish in the 100-m backstroke, behind only American teammate Olivia Smoliga, to close the gap. Cali’s Kelsey Wog of Winnipeg had delivered a second-place finish of her own in the 200IM earlier.

“It was a really fun racing experience and a really fun atmosphere to compete in,” said Wog, a world-class breaststroker who laid down a huge personal best of 2:06.27. “It’s really motivating and fun to swim here. I’m a little bit surprised at how fast I swam but I’ll take it. I like to have the IM as another event (in addition to breaststroke). It’s good to separate my eggs and not put them all in one basket.”

It was a busy weekend of international swimming as four Canadians were also in action at the FINA World Cup.

Henderson earned silver in the 100-m butterfly with a time of 59.65. It was the second medal in as many days for Canadians, following Pembroke, Ont., native Aly Ackman’s 200-m freestyle bronze Saturday.

“It’s been a positive experience for the small group from Canada and a great start to the season,” said Senior Coach, Olympic Program, Martyn Wilby. “Having both Aly and Hanna swim into medal positions at an international event while in heavy training shows they are both moving in the right direction at the start of the Olympic year. This event as whole has proved to be a valuable experience at senior international competition.”

The ISL continues next Saturday and Sunday in Naples, Italy, with both Cali Condors and Energy Standard once again in action against DC Trident and Aqua Centurions.

The next leg of the World Cup also takes place next weekend (Friday through Sunday) in Berlin.