One of the most important parts when it comes to swimming is being able to control one’s breathing.

Pueblo County High School girls swimming’s Rachel Paolucci has proved her iron lungs in the pool, but she also displays it well on dry land.

The junior has become one of the mainstays for singing the national anthem before sporting events at Pueblo County, even prior to her own competitions in the pool.

But singing in front of a crowd is second nature to Paolucci now.

“Probably being on the block,” Paolucci said about what is more nerve-wracking between singing and being on the swim blocks. “The national anthem, it doesn’t really faze me that much. I do it every swim meet, volleyball games. It doesn’t faze me.”

Speaking of volleyball, Paolucci was an important piece for the Hornets, who earned the No. 1 seed heading into the state tournament back in the fall.

Paolucci helped put them there by holding down the middle with some big blocks during regionals despite being a little undersized for the position.

But transitioning to the next sport is never an easy task and Pueblo County swim coach Dan Radiff noticed the pain being felt from Paolucci’s shoulder.

“She really, really hurt her shoulder bad and they were talking about surgery,” Radiff said. “The first two and a half weeks she was almost crying from the pain. So for her to be where we are right now is amazing.”

Where Paolucci is at is somewhere the junior has never been in her swimming career.

The freestyle swimmer posted a time of 59. 61 seconds in the 100 free last weekend at the Hornet Invite, her first time breaking the 1-minute barrier.

“I was really happy, that was my best time,” Paolucci said. “I’ve never been able to go under a minute and I finally did it, so I was really happy.”

The improvement for Paolucci has been an important piece for the Hornets swim team overall as they are now ranked No. 2 in Class 3A with state about three weeks away on Feb. 14-15.

Radiff is a self-described, “medley coach,” meaning the freestyle events have been some of the tougher ones for Pueblo County throughout the years.

Paolucci also swims in the 50 free and helps on the 200 and 400 freestyle relay squads, meaning her growth could be a big factor in getting the Hornets to a potential state title.

“I think everyone has improved, Rachel especially,” Pueblo County junior Kandi Liberato said. “She is a key part to our team, everyone is a key to the team.”

As Paolucci’s time in high school begins to wind down, the natural question becomes what she wants to focus on more between volleyball, swimming or singing.

But none of those activities are bigger than her school work.

“School work the most,” Paolucci said when asked what she focuses on more. “I do about half and half each year, each sport and singing I just do when I’m in the car or wherever. But school work comes first for me.”

The Hornets are back in action at 5 p.m. today and Saturday when they compete in the Fountain-Fort Carson Invitational.

Chieftain sports reporter Austin White can be reached by email at awhite@chieftain.com or on Twitter @ajw_sports.