COLUMBIA — Her career in the swimming pool flows from the gene pool.
Hickman senior Nathalia Mello qualified for the state meet Saturday at the Last Chance girls swimming and diving meet along with her younger twin sisters Bianca and Nicole Mello.
“I think they share an unspoken enthusiasm and a desire not to let the others down, especially on the relay,” coach John Hamilton said. “There is a really strong bond on the relay team at the state meet and it motivates them.”
The Mello sisters primarily swim middle distance and distance races. At Saturday's meet at Hickman, Bianca Mello qualified for state in the 200 and 500-yard freestyles, Nathalia Mello qualified for the 500-yard freestyle, and all three will compete in the 400-yard freestyle and 200-yard medley relays together.
“We push each other to work harder, nobody wants to lose,” Bianca Mello said.
This was evident in the 500-yard freestyle, in which the Mello sisters finished first, second and third.
“Being on the same team and competing with each other makes us appreciate each other more,” Bianca Mello said. "It’s fun to cheer each other on."
It is possible the girls inherited their swimming talent from their father Cesar Mello, who competed in the breaststroke and freestyle in Brazil until his college years.
Nathalia Mello began swimming when she was 6 years old. Bianca and Nicole Mello started at a younger age through summer leagues. Throughout Nathalia Mello’s 13 years of swimming, in addition to her sisters, her teddy bear has been by her side.
“His name is Donny and he’s 13 years old,” said Nathalia Mello of her good luck bear. “He goes to all the meets with me, all the girls on the team know about him, and we joke about it.”
Donny will make his fourth and final trip to the state meet Feb 19 and 20 at the Rec-Plex in St. Peters. Nathalia Mello will swim in the relays with her sisters in addition to the 200-IM and 100-yard breaststroke. Jenahlyn Felten qualified for the 200-yard IM and 100-yard butterfly. Bianca Mello qualified for the 200-yard IM and the 500-yard freestyle. The Kewpies will also compete in the 200-yard medley relay and the 200-yard freestyle relay.
“I wanted to keep things light, make sure the girls weren’t under too much pressure,” Hamilton said. “I told them to just give it what they got. I am very pleased. They accomplished more than I thought they’d be able to.”
Swimming is not the only common thread in the Mello household. Nathalia Mello is set to compete for Missouri next season. Her mother is the manager of Mark Twain dining hall at MU. Her father, a personal trainer and health consultant, served as assistant coach to the Missouri swim team for 10 years.
“It will be a tremendous experience for her,” Cesar Mello said. “MU has an excellent program, and it’s fun to watch her go back to where it all started.”
Nathalia Mello swam for Hickman four years. The past three years, she qualified for the state meet in all of her events and placed in the top eight every year.
“It’s going to be hard to see her go, but she will do well and be successful in whatever she does,” Hamilton said.