Sarah Kanfer's game plan when entering the pool is to get off the blocks fast and just flail her arms like there's no tomorrow.
That's how the incoming sophomore at Patchogue-Medford High School is approaching the Maccabiah Games in Israel. The games begin Wednesday and continue through July 30.
Latest HS sports stories
"This is my first time in Israel and it's totally different," said Kanfer, 14, who has visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where the events will be held. "We've been touring and stuff. It is nice to see my heritage and where my family is from."
While the Maccabiah Games are new to Kanfer, international competition isn't. She swam for the USA team in the Italian Junior Olympics in 2012.
In Israel, Kanfer is competing on the junior level in the 50 freestyle, the 100 freestyle and the 100 backstroke events.
Her goal is to medal in the 50 freestyle "because that's my best event," she said. "I'm a sprinter."
The junior team includes Margaret Aroesty from Long Beach and assistant coach Janet Roffer from Westhampton Beach. Her husband, Barry Roffer, coaches the Open division team.
Marc Danin, Kanfer's coach at Islanders Aquatics in Sayville, believes she can medal in any event that she competes in. Danin compares Kanfer's unorthodox swimming stroke to former American Olympian Janet Evans, who specialized in distance freestyle events.
"I leave her stroke alone because she is fast at it," Danin said. "Sarah is more of a sprinter for shorter distance events. She's just naturally talented in all four strokes-the freestyle, butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke. She likes to race, she wants to win."
In Italy, Kanfer won gold in the 50 breaststroke and the 200 individual medley relay and bronze in the 100 breaststroke.
"It was a very cultural experience," said Kanfer, who is Italian on her mother's side. "It was nice to be able to go to the city where my great grandparents were born."
Along with making the state qualifying meet as a freshman, Kanfer, a Medford resident who will turn 15 on July 21, was also selected for the Metro Zone team after swimming the fastest time in the 50 freestyle event (24.99) during the February team qualifier.
Kanfer is now focusing on topping her best times in the 50 freestyle (24.83) and the 100 butterfly (1:00.20) in Israel, where Danin expects Kanfer's positive energy to shine through.
"I expect her to perform a good race because she likes to race. In these situations, her nerves drive her to race better and faster," Danin said. "She doesn't allow swimmers on her team to get negative. Her positive attitude always comes through on the swimming deck."
Kanfer's passion for the sport started eight years ago and, she says, it's a driving force in her life.
"By now, it's a part of me," Kanfer said. "Unless you swim, no one knows the commitment for it. Sometimes I get sick of it, but I wouldn't be myself if I didn't swim. It's an easy way to meet people and make friends. I'm always having fun."