Feb. 1—ROCHESTER — Opponents have been seeing double when going up against the John Marshall boys swimming and diving team for the past three seasons.
The Rockets feature identical twins John and Paul Njeru. The third-year varsity swimmers are now seniors, captains and leaders of the JM squad.
"They are our two best all-around swimmers," first-year JM head coach Kendrick Bachman said. "Sometimes John and Paul will help calm some of the new guys down and get them ready to go. They're a massive asset to the team."
The Rockets have lacked in numbers in recent years, and that has made winning a bit difficult. But there has been a spike in numbers this season, and the Njerus have been quick to embrace and help out the newcomers, some of whom are first-time competitive swimmers.
"At captains' practice at the beginning of the season, we kind of got everybody used to the water because a lot of them didn't have much experience swimming competitively," John Njeru said.
"We've been helping them throughout the season," Paul Njeru added. "Usually it's little things here and there. And because a lot of these swimmers are really new, they can improve a lot quickly, and that's been really nice to see."
The Njerus, who are 17, have been swimming competitively for about eight years and got their start at the Rochester Swim Club. The brothers have a natural training partner and are competitive with each other.
"He really pushes me and I push him just to go a little bit faster," John Njeru said. "Also in practice, we try to push each other."
They also tend to swim a lot of the same events, the 100 breaststroke, 100 butterfly, 100 freestyle and 200 individual medley as well as relays.
John's favorite individual event is the 100 breaststroke. He is also likely to swim in the 100 butterfly in the postseason.
"It feels like the most comfortable stroke to me," he said of the breaststroke. "And I just enjoy it compared to other strokes. I feel less stressed when I do it for some reason."
Paul also has a comfort level when it comes to his favorite event. He said his fastest event might be the 100 breaststroke, but he prefers the 100 butterfly.
"I just like how I feel when I'm swimming it," he said. "I like the rhythmic nature of it."
Paul's second individual event in the postseason is expected to be the 200 IM. The twins will also take part in the 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay. Paul sacrifices for the team and swims a 50-yard backstroke for his leg of the medley relay.
"They like to swim the same events, but they are both incredible teammates and will step up and do whatever we need them to do to maximize points," Bachman said.
The Rockets have won just one dual meet this year, but for the Njerus, being involved with the team is about more than just winning.
"I really like the atmosphere of the team," John Njeru said. "Also the sportsmanship is really nice, especially when we're facing other Rochester teams. Those are the most fun meets."
They both enjoy leading a traditional JM team cheer at the conclusion of each dual meet along with fellow seniors Scott Anderson and Luke Liedl.
The Njerus are going to take a competitive, but modest approach when it comes to the upcoming postseason: the Big Nine Conference and Section 1, Class 2A meets. It's very likely the Rockets will not have any state qualifiers from the section meet. The Njerus are looking for top-16 finishes in all of their individual events.
"I think for us, it's mostly just having fun," Paul Njeru said. "Just trying to be competitive in the races that we swim."
Outside of swimming, the brothers enjoy rock climbing and mechanical work on cars.
They plan on attending college, but they are likely to take different paths in the schools that they choose. John may stay close to home and attend the Rochester branch of the University of Minnesota while majoring in pre-med. Paul could be headed to the main U of M campus in Minneapolis and major in engineering.
"For the first time in our lives really," John Njeru said of being apart from his brother.