AYER — For Sam Folger, “the fly” turned out to be his ticket to a Division 1 collegiate athletics career.
The butterfly stroke is the swimming event that caught coaches’ eyes in the Division 1 swimming ranks for the Ayer Shirley Regional High School senior, who in November signed his national letter of intent to compete for Big Ten power Penn State University.
Folger competes for Greenwood Swimming, a swimming club based out of Worcester, coached by legendary local swimming coach Don Lemieux, who guided Gardner High School to numerous state titles during his tenure with the Wildcats.
“I’m really excited, it’s always been my dream to swim Division 1 and swim at a big school like a Big Ten school and Penn State,” Folger said. “It’s just going to be awesome to be able to go there, because they have amazing academics, and an amazing swim program. I just can’t wait to be swimming at that high level with so many fast people.”
In March of 2020, Folger verbally committed to the Nittany Lions, but also had opportunities with other elite schools in the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference (SEC), and Navy.
Penn State entered this swim season nationally ranked at No. 24, and Folger is leaning toward majoring in economics.
The Shirley resident says a family-like atmosphere at Penn State helped tip the scales in his decision. Another contributing factor was knowing peers who chose Penn State, that provided him with an inside look into the program and academics.
“It felt like a family,” Folger said. “I just really liked the coaches, everyone on the team was just really nice, and I actually made a lot of friends when I went on my recruiting trip up there.”
A seasoned star in the 100 and 200 butterfly, Folger also has the versatility to do other events. Penn State’s coaches expressed to him an interest in some relay work, in addition to the fly, and he also has strength in backstroke and freestyle.
“The best thing about (Folger), as an athlete or swimmer, is he’s an athlete first,” Lemieux said. “He was a good football player as a young kid, but he’s just a really good athlete. He loves to compete.”
Lemieux said that “compete-level” was evident when Folger attended the U.S. Nationals in Richmond, Va., which featured the top young swimmers in the country.
“He has no fear, and doesn’t get up there and question how good can he be, or what if,” Lemieux said. “He just loves to race, and I think that’s his No. 1 strength; he works very, very hard.”
The leadership Lemieux sees most in Folger is a lead-by-example approach, where he is relentless in pushing himself to the extremes to get as good as he possibly can be, without complaint during the most strenuous of days.
The ceiling is much higher for Folger, Lemieux says. Despite being pushed to the limit in the pool — working on agility, endurance and technique — there was an intentional absence of weight training, to allow for that piece to come into play at the next level.
“I want them to get that extra strength when they (arrive at) college, because we train really hard and really well,” Lemieux said “In that aspect, it’s tough to match. But if we can add strength, and the dry-land work he’s going to get in college, it’ll be an added boost. He has an opportunity to go a lot farther, and grow and get stronger.”
Katrina Tedstone, Folger’s mother, instilled her passion in swimming in Folger when he was just 4-years old and took to the waters for the first time. By age 10, Folger joined Greenwood Swimming. At age 12, he opted to focus solely on swimming, where the initial dream of swimming at the Division 1 level began to take form.