LEWISTON – High school seniors don’t pick up a basketball for the first time, begin dribbling circles around the competition and become a starting point guard.

Not many click on a pair of skis, learn wrestling technique or begin bounding to record lengths in the triple jump, either.

Likewise, you don’t see a who’s-who of rookie swimmers qualifying for championship meets while they’re just getting acquainted with the pool.

Talk to Kyle Rousseau about learning curves, though, and you’re likely to draw a blank stare. The Lewiston High School senior has swum out of nowhere — well, off the indoor track team, actually — to cross the Class A state meet threshold in the 50-yard freestyle.

“I had friends on the team and figured I’d try something new,” Rousseau said.

Swimming’s equivalent of the downhill or the 100-meter dash, the 50 free is a pure time trial.

 To make states, a swimmer must reach his destination in 26.5 seconds. Rousseau registered a 26.36 two weeks ago at Belfast.

“It’s a lot less complicated to learn than some other strokes,” said Rousseau. “I caught on easiest to that. Then I just worked a lot on it. I’ve been improving every meet.”

In addition to daily practices and once or twice-weekly meets with the Blue Devils, Rousseau honed his newfound skills by working out with a coach at Bates College on Saturday mornings.

“He’s an incredibly smart young man,” said Lewiston coach Tom Stocker. “It’s not only that, but his coach-ability. You tell him what to do and he does it. There’s a natural ability, but it’s to his credit that he can take something like that and put it into practice.”

Stocker inherited two of his school’s most versatile athletes when he took over the Lewiston swim team this winter.

Carley Denis, previously a varsity field hockey and basketball standout, made the switch from the open floor to the water this year.

“A lot of these kids have been swimming for years and never get it,” Stocker said. “You just wish you had them sooner.”

Rousseau has been a state-meet scorer for Lewiston’s outdoor track team.

As such, he appreciates the challenge of competing not only against his neighbor in the next lane but versus himself.

“Swimming is just really fun to work at,” he said.

Freestyle doesn’t appear as technical to the naked eye as the backstroke or breaststroke. But there is a science to being on the right side of the stopwatch.

“A lot of people aren’t comfortable with the water once they exert themselves really hard. But the ones who can stick through that awkward stage, they’re just a delight. And pretty soon once they learn those skills, the time drops happen,” Stocker said. “That’s the thing that makes this sport more than brute strength. You see kids fight against the water with a lot of muscle and heart. But the harder you push on the water, the harder it pushes back.”

Beyond his one season of high school competition, Rousseau hopes to continue swimming in triathlons.

For now, he’s enjoying a camaraderie some athletes never find on smaller, stick-and-ball teams.

“We have a really close team. I love that,” Rousseau said. “We’re all like family.”

One in which even the newborns may learn to stand on their own in a hurry.

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