Sanford Swimmer – Tops in State – Eyes Olympic Dream

Sanford’s Bella Warner is the 2017 State High School Girls Swimmer of the Year. Photo courtesy of Ted Rosenthal/Izmaddy Studios.

Swimming at a competitive level takes a special kind of dedication. It means countless hours of training and endless practice laps, and sometimes that hard work takes place before the sun is even up. And Bella Warner loves every second of it.

Warner, a freshman at Sanford School, was selected as the Delaware high school girls swimmer of the year after she won two events at the DIAA state championships. Warner became the first Sanford swimmer to win two state titles, as she captured the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle in this year’s state meet, which was her springboard to the big individual prize.

“It’s pretty special, really a dream, to have someone like Bella on our team,” Sanford coach Lynn Correll said. “I remember the first time I saw her swim – her strokes were so smooth and effortless.”

That success made all of those hours and all of those laps worthwhile. And even though Warner says she’s a competitive person in meets, the person she competes against the most is herself.

Bella Warner takes 1st place in the 500 freestyle with a time of 4.58.14. Photo courtesy of Ted Rosenthal/Izmaddy Studios.

“That’s the thing that keeps me swimming and loving swimming,” Warner said. “When you touch that wall and see that you posted your best time and that you know that your hard work paid off, it’s a great feeling. And it makes you want to work even harder in the future to keep improving and do even better.”

Lacrosse Buddy Suggested Bella Try Swimming

Swimming at that level is also a year-round commitment. When she was younger, Warner took dance classes and horseback riding lessons and she also played lacrosse. A lacrosse teammate was also a member of a youth swim team and she encouraged Warner to give it a try. And when she did, it was love at first splash.

Warner quickly learned that to be successful at the club level – she was a member of Delaware Swim Team until switching to the Westtown Aquatics Program in 2016 – she had to dedicate herself to swimming 12 months of the year, a commitment that has forced many swimmers to give up the sport.

“It’s OK with me,” Warner said of the never-ending grind. “When I have two weeks off from swimming all I want to do is get back in the pool and swim. Swimming keeps me busy and keeps me focused on things other than swimming, like school work, and it really helps me with my time management. It makes me disciplined and you can’t succeed in anything if you don’t have discipline.”

Success in swimming is often measured in 10ths of a second and even 100ths of a second, and Warner said that slim difference between victory and defeat is enough motivation to keep her working on her craft.

“You have to put in that time and effort into your training, because you know the swimmer in the next lane is doing that and you have to match that effort and even exceed it,” Warner said. “That’s what makes you a good athlete and a good teammate.”

Warner learns she has just won the 500 freestyle at the State Championships. Photo courtesy of Ted Rosenthal/Izmaddy Studios.

All-Time Record Holder

If there’s any question about the impact that Warner has had on her teammates, just check out Sanford’s list of all-time records – Sanford lists eight individual records in girls swimming and Warner owns six of them (200 freestyle, 200 Individual Medley, 50 freestyle, 100 butterfly, 100 freestyle and 500 freestyle). Warner is also part of the school’s record-setting 400 freestyle relay team, along with Lindsay Colgan, Katie Correll and Angela Kuczykowski.

Not bad for a freshman.

And not only has Warner shined individually, she’s also made her teammates better by the times she sets and the example she sets. Correll said Warner’s quick starts, turns and finishes are ideal models for the other swimmers to learn from.

“All of their times have improved over last year,” Correll said of her other swimmers. “She’s taken our team to the next level. Bella serves as an inspiration to the rest of the team. She takes what she has learned and shares it with them.”

Even more important than the technical aspects of the sport, Warner’s attitude and competitiveness are infectious, which helps everyone push through the grind of those countless hours and endless laps.

“I definitely love pushing myself to the limit and seeing what I can do,” she said. “I know a lot of people look at me, and because I’m tiny – I’m 5′ 1″ – they think I can’t keep up and compete at that level. And I love to prove them wrong.”

As for the future, Warner wants to swim in college and, like any swimmer with world-class dreams, she wants to swim in the Olympics some day.

“I definitely think about that,” she said. “I know when I was watching the swimmers in the Olympics [in Rio de Janiero] I would get chills, and I was thinking that I want that to be me someday. And I know that to get to that level I have to stay focused on my swimming and really train everyday to the best of my ability. I know that all of the pain I go through is going to pay off someday and I know I’m going to have to push myself to accomplish those goals.”

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About the Contributor

Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.


  • Thank you for the amazing article! Bella makes it easy to be a parent! She is our Warrior! We are so proud!

  • Not only is Bella an awesome, record-breaking swimmer, but she is an amazing, mature, positive, and compassionate person. This young lady has been blessed and is relentless in honing her talents and pursuing her dreams. It is a privilege to know and love her! Thank you for a wonderful article!

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