MIDDLEBURY — To most people, Jon Stoller is a laid back guy with a strong work ethic when it comes to his swimming career.
But to Northridge High swim coach Joe Keller, Stoller is much more.
"Jon is one of the toughest and most competitive swimmers I've ever coached,'' Keller said. "He is a great kid and an outstanding student, but when you get him in the water he really goes at it.''
So how tough is he?
Two years ago, Stoller swam the 100 butterfly in the sectional — one of the sports' toughest events — just days after recovering from a bout with pneumonia.
"We tried to get him to sit out, but he wouldn't have anything to do with it,'' Keller remembered. "He wanted to try and qualify for state and give the team a better shot at a state title. He came up short (finishing second), but I know he earned a lot of respect that day for the effort he gave.''
Stoller had no such trouble qualifying for the state meet on Saturday, Feb. 22, as he won both the 200 individual medley and the 100 breaststroke at the Northridge Sectional. He also helped a pair of Raider relay teams qualify.
That means he'll be leading a strong Northridge contingent at the Indiana University Natatorium beginning Friday, Feb. 28, for the IHSAA State Swimming and Diving Championships.
"Jon swam well in the sectional, but his goal was really to qualify for state and then gear up for what happens this weekend,'' Keller said. "He'll be shaving and we'll have him suited-up to perform his best starting Friday.
"Our expectation is that he'll finish in the top eight in both individual events and his goal is to swim 1:50 or under in the 200 IM. In IHSAA history, only eight swimmers have done that (including Northridge's A.J. Miller in 2005) and he'd really love to add his name to that list.''
To finish under 1:50, Stoller will have to cut a little over four seconds from his sectional time.
While Stoller has had an outstanding high school career, Keller believes the best could still be ahead his talented senior.
"To be honest, Jon's best two events are the 400 IM and the 200 meter breaststroke, which of course aren't high school events,'' Keller said. "Our plan is to take him to the USA Swimming Speedo Champions Series event in Indianapolis in March to try and get him qualified to swim this summer.''
Stoller holds a 3.9 grade point average at Northridge and is planning to study engineering and swim at IUPUI beginning next fall.
But of course, there is still some unfinished business to attend to in Indianapolis this weekend.
"Jon is the most technologically proficient swimmer that I've ever coached, so when you add his skill level and his ability to make changes at anytime, you have a great swimmer,'' Keller said. "He's not a real outspoken leader, but kids know how hard he works and how he goes about his business every day and gets things done. With a younger team like we had this year, that was very important.
"Perhaps the best thing Jon has going for him this weekend is his ability to stay calm in pretty much every situation. When you're at the state finals and there is so much going on around you and you can still just take a deep breath and perform, that's a big advantage.''
Stoller finished sixth in the state last year in the 200 IM and four of the five swimmers who beat him return this year, including defending champ Blake Pieroni of Chesterton.