'You Don't Know What You've Got ('Til It's Gone)' is a song by 'Cinderella' which described Bella Passamani's swimming career at New Berlin Eisenhower at one point.
Passamani burst on the scene as a freshman, going to the WIAA State Tournament in 2014 in four events, including two relays. She was fourth in the 400 freestyle relay and tied for seventh in the 200 free relay. In the individual events, she was fifth in the 200 free and eighth in the 500 free.
With such a great start to her career, she was looking forward to her sophomore season.
But then it was gone.
"In May of my freshman year going into my sophomore year I started to feel pain in my hip when I was doing my club practices," she said. "We did a lot of running and I felt the pain."
So Passamani had an MRI which showed she had an impingement in her hip. She could have surgery to repair it or take a cortisone shot that would last six months and then have the surgery.
"I figured why not get the surgery over and done with," she said. "I was able to get back in the pool within three months, but I couldn't kick fully at that point. After six months I was back to normal swimming and I was able to recover pretty quickly."
Even though she was injured, Eisenhower swimming coach Alyssa Bauer had her on the sidelines.
"Even though she wasn't in the pool swimming, she was at practice every day helping us coach." Bauer said. "We called her the 'intern coach.' She had passion, even in that. We had one girl who couldn't do a flip turn, so Bella went home and researched and came back with a plan. She took that 'intern coach' as a big responsibility.
"I don't know that she had a big change, but being on the other side of the pool - being dry - let her appreciate being in the pool. When she came back her junior year she realized it was her passion whereas her freshman year she was just having fun and was really fast."
Bella recalled the situation.
"I got my surgery the second week of September. I was back on the pool deck in my crutches and my hip brace the next week," she said. "I helped out with the JV swimmers. It was very hard for me hearing all the varsity swimmers complaining about the sets 'Oh this is so hard.' I said I would give anything to be in that pool. For me, that was a turn of my mentality. I needed to be more positive and I need to be thankful for when I can get back in the pool, not take it for granted anymore.
"I think it was a blessing that I had all that go on at the time that I had it. You hear athlete's getting burned out all the time. That was a perfect time where I was not burned out because I had a little bit of a break. I think it actually worked out rather well."
Getting back in the pool her junior year worked out more than 'rather well' for Bella, as she helped Eisenhower finish fourth at the state meet.
Passamani won the 100 butterfly (56.27) and finished second in the 500 freestyle (5:04.66). She also placed second as part of the 200 medley relay and seventh in the 400 freestyle relay.
Bauer wasn't sure how Bella would respond after she missed her sophomore year.
"I didn't know what to expect when she came back, though I knew she came off a pretty good club season," Bauer said. "She was really excited to come in and swim. One of things that's really good about Bella she is really good in more than one event. Most of the season it was playing around with her events, seeing where she wanted to swim. The two she picked - 100 fly and 500 free - were kind of close together, so we talked about that. There was only one event in between them, with about a 15 minute break between them.
"Her whole mentality was different. She was happy to be in the water she picked the events she thought she would do well in and finished first in the fly and second in the 500 (at state)."
Bauer added that going to state as a freshman helped out Bella and she helped out the team when they went last season.
“If she has the lead she’s not going to give it up. If she falls behind she is going to fight back and do whatever she can to get the lead. She is my stubborn swimmer and she will do anything to get that lead. That makes her super special.”
--- Coach Alyssa Bauer
"I think it helped a lot. The year she went to state as a freshman, we had a couple seniors who were influential, very hard workers like she is," Bauer said. "They had outgoing personalities and didn't take things too seriously and I think it rubbed off on Bella a little bit.
"So when she was at state last year, she was one of the oldest - we only had juniors and under - it allowed her to step up and show the girls this is something we go to, we have a good time, we race and let the mental thing go."
Having gone to state as a freshman, Bella put a lot of pressure on herself coming back as a junior.
"It was pressure filled because I knew I couldn't take first place for granted," she said. "There are always people who come in and get faster, faster and faster. I couldn't automatically think I'm going to win again. I worked so hard in the pool to get back to where I was at. I was just trying to push myself so I could win again, so that way I wasn't expecting to win, I wasn't over-confident."
Bella had some doubts going into last year and Bauer had to give her a heart-to-heart.
"What if I don't make state. What if I do poorly. What if my hip prevents me from doing what I know I can do," Bella recalled. "Alyssa had to get me out of my mental funk. She told me 'Bella, you've done this before. You know how to swim. You can do this.'"
Bella, who has been swimming since she was 4 years old, talked about her strengths.
"Overall, I'm a very good racer," she said. "If you put me in a heat of girls, I will not lose. I do not want to lose. Sometimes I do lose, but I know I tried my best. I try my very hardest to stay with girls, even though I know they're faster than me.
"I think that definitely works to my advantage. In looking at my state events - in the 100 fly I was neck and neck with everybody. I pulled ahead at the end, just because I wanted to beat them.
"At practices, I'm a very hard worker. I try my best day in and day out, just to push everybody else to go faster. I like to have competition to race during practice. They help push me to reach my potential. I do have an internal drive but other people bring that out in me. I try my very best to use other swimmers to help me."
Bauer agreed with Passamani and added what she would like her to work on.
"I describe her as a very stubborn swimmer - if she has the lead she's not going to give it up," Alyssa said. "If she falls behind she is going to fight back and do whatever she can to get the lead. We noticed that right away in her individual events. She is my stubborn swimmer and she will do anything to get that lead. That makes her super special.
"She's an extremely hard worker. She is not cocky and is willing to take advice. She doesn't go into the thing that she's the best - which is a good and bad thing. She's always willing to take a step back and think about what she can do to get even better than she already is.
"I would like to see her improve on her confidence. Going into a meet, she tends to look at the other girls and the big names she's used to racing. She needs to take over and believe how good she is. Her ability is exceeding her expectations."
Being a team captain along with seniors Emma Oleniczak and Maddie Mainwood, leadership is important to Passamani, but she is not one to throw her weight around.
"I feel like it's the backbone of the team," Bella said. "In the past our leaders have done a great job. I just want to follow in their footsteps. We're trying our best to keep the team positive. We've done a 'quote of the week' every week, doing everything we can to keep the team morale up. We've done a lot of team bonding.
"I feel that the captain has to lead by example. If the captains are negative that brings the rest of the team down. If the captains don't cheer, nobody else will cheer. It's really important because everybody follows them.
"I'm not somebody to overstep my boundaries. I try to do my best and show that I'm working hard and show that others will follow me. If they don't, that's when I'll call them out. We (other captains) work well together."
Bauer sees the progress Passamani is making.
"She's learning to be a good leader. The beginning of the season she was very nervous telling people what to do. She didn't think it was her place. The season has gone on and I've given her opportunities to step up and she is very good at it. She is good at doing that one-on-one. She's good at heart-to-heart."
The bottom line is this - Bella Passamani is where she wants to be.
"I have always just loved the water," Bella said. "I feel I have a natural feel for it. When I first started I wasn't always a great swimmer. There were people passing me. But I would go to practice and see my progress throughout the years. Why go to practice if you're not going to work hard.
"Over the years I built my way up to the top of the club program to beat some of the people ahead of me. I liked to go out and race. I just think it's really fun. I couldn't see myself doing any other sport."
HANGING WITH BELLA PASSAMANI
- FAVORITE FOOD: Strawberry. Raspberry Smoothies
- FAVORITE MUSIC: Alternative Music
- FAVORITE MOVIE: 'Tangled. Every kind of movie.
- FAVORITE TV SHOW: 'Modern Family.'
- FAVORITE CLASS: Speech, Business.
- FAVORITE PLACE YOU VISITED: Arizona.
- WHAT DO YOU DO TO RELAX? Color, locker signs, coloring books.
- FAVORITE SPORTS RIVALRY: Greenfield and Whitnall
- MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Winning 100 butterfly at State. Watching 300 breaststroke rally to beat Greenfield at Conference Relay meet.
- WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO IN THE FUTURE: Attend a mid-major D1 college to swim. Study Marketing, Sales, Accounting.