On Dec. 11 at Steinert High School, the Hopewell Valley girls’ swimming coach stood on one side of the pool and looked across the water.
“Seeing Jacquelyn on the other side of the pool was a bit awkward,” the coach said. “I am so used to us working together and strategizing together before meets. For this meet we couldn’t do that.”
The Steinert coach on the other side of the six lanes was thinking the same thing.
“It was a little strange swimming Julie’s team,” she said. “Because as much as I was hoping the Steinert girls would win, it was nice to see the kids she works with do so well. The hardest part was not discussing meet strategy with her first. I am glad that is over!”
Why this strange reaction to a swim meet? Simple.
“Jacquelyn” is fifth-year Steinert coach Jacquelyn Nami while “Julie” is first-year HoVal coach Julie Nami.
They are sisters, roommates and best friends, and for the first time they were actually going against each other from opposite ends of a swim meet.
“I am used to competing by her side, for the same team,” Julie said. “But the meet is not about Jacquelyn and me … it is all about the swimmers. We both have a lot of talent on our teams this season.
“We realize the meet is really about the kids, and not so much about our sisterly competition,” agreed Jacquelyn. “We have pretty evenly matched teams.”
In case you haven’t heard yet, it was a good meet. Hopewell won, 91.5 to 78.5. But there is no denying the sister act was an interesting angle to the afternoon.
Their swimming careers stretch back to the beginning of their memories, when Debbie and Tony Nami took the kids to the Yardville Swim Club behind Switlik Park.
“We took all of our swimming lessons there and spent all summer at the pool,” Jacquelyn said.
“It was obvious to those who watched that we possessed some natural swimming talent,” Julie said.
Jacquelyn, who is older by three years, began her competitive swimming as a freshman at Steinert. Inspired by big sis’s successful first year, Julie decided to literally take the plunge into club swimming.
Both joined the Hamilton Aquatics Club summer team, which was low key where clubs are concerned.
“It was then that I realized how much I enjoyed actually competing in swimming,” Julie said. “I enrolled in the stroke and turn clinic, led by (former Nottingham coach) Dave Tees so that I would be better prepared for high school swimming.”
Ironically, Tees’ son is now a sophomore on the Hopewell Valley High boy’s team.
“I think all our years of pool time made us ready for high school competition,” Jacquelyn said. “Our parents have always encouraged us to do what we enjoyed, and they always loved coming to all of our meets to watch, along with our grandparents. They all made sure we were involved in the sport for fun and never put too much pressure on us.”
“They never missed a meet, and I can still hear them yelling my name from the stands before races,” Julie said. “They are still just as encouraging and supportive as they were when I was actually competing.”
The girls made it easy for mom and dad. After swimming together at Steinert for one year, they did the same in college when both attended The College of New Jersey.
Jacquelyn captained Steinert for two years and swam the 50, 100 and 200 freestyles along with the breaststroke. At TCNJ, she was part of the record-setting 400 medley relay team (since broken) that earned an NCAA B cut time.
Julie was on Steinert’s record-setting 200 and 400 free relay teams, and finished Top 12 in the county in the 50 and 100 free. She continued as a freestyle sprinter at TCNJ and earned an NCAA B cut as a senior on the 200 individual medley relay team.
After graduation, Jacquelyn made it back to her alma mater as a Spanish teacher (same as Julie) and swim coach. Julie went up to Somerville and served as the Pioneers assistant coach for two years before landing a teaching job at Hopewell this year.
“When I took the job at Hopewell, I was really sad to have to give up coaching,” Julie said. “Then, about a month after being hired, Ms. (Kiki) Enderle (the athletic director), contacted me about the swim coach position in Hopewell, and I was ecstatic. I love coaching because I love sharing my enthusiasm for the sport with others.”
She wasn’t the only one feeling ecstatic.
“I was thrilled when she got the job at Hopewell because now she works much closer to home,” Jacquelyn said. “I knew she would be the best person to coach the Hopewell girls. They are lucky to have her as their coach now.”
It’s not hard to see where the excitement stems from. Julie says, “I feel lucky to have such a wonderful relationship with my sister.”
The two live together in Lawrenceville with their cat, Antonio, but Julie will have a bachelorette pad in July after she serves as maid of honor in Jacquelyn’s wedding.
“I will certainly miss my roommate, but am so thrilled to stand by her side as her maid of honor,” Julie said. “Don’t get me wrong though, just like any other sisters we had our moments when growing up. I thank my parents for encouraging us to support each other and help us in building our relationship. I don’t know what I would do without my big sister.”
“We’ve always had similar interests,” Jacquelyn said. “First basketball and violin, then swimming and Spanish. We’re both planning on becoming administrators in the future, perhaps in the same district if we are lucky.”
With all those common interests, swimming is one of the strongest adhesives that keep them so tight.
“It’s a big part of our connection,” Jacquelyn said. “It allowed us to spend time together in high school and college. Once we were both done swimming competitively, we started doing some triathlons and other races together to replace swimming.”
Coaching has become the latest thing they are both involved in, and they don’t mind going to each other for advice.
“In Somerset County I was feeling a bit out of the loop entering into competition this year,” Julie said. “Jacquelyn has been kind enough to share information with me about other teams in the CVC…their strengths and weaknesses. Her assistance has certainly affected my line-ups so far this season in a positive manner. I will be providing her with the help I can as I gain more knowledge of the competition.”
“We actually bounce ideas off of each other all the time,” Jacquelyn said. “We are always talking about our meet strategies and sharing information on practices.”
Well, not always. Once a year, they will have to keep that info private.
Both are happy that day has already passed this season.