But the Allatoona swimmer still exuded confidence, based on the way she carried herself at meets, according to Allatoona coach Dina Asher. Malone allowed her times and accomplishments to speak for themselves.
Malone, moving to the Chicago area this fall to swim at Northwestern, wrote a near-perfect ending to her high school career by winning the 100-yard butterfly in the Class A-AAAAA state meet, on her fourth and final try.
Malone also took second in the state in the 100 backstroke and was a two-time champion at the county meet, winning both the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly.
For her efforts, Malone is the 2013-14 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Girls Swimmer of the Year.
“It’s definitely an honor being picked out of all the swimmers in the county,” Malone said. “Being my senior year, it’s really great.”
Malone prevailed in the 100 butterfly this season, after finishing second in the state meet as a junior and third as a sophomore. Those were an improvement from Malone’s freshman year, when she finished 10th.
After coming up just short a year ago, Malone focused more on her underwater swimming, using turns to build up speed, and it showed at the state meet.
Once the 100 butterfly began at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, Malone built an early lead over Cartersville’s Elise Hart — a teammate of hers with Swim Atlanta — and she maintained it before winning by .72 seconds.
“Looking back on it, I progressed in the (finals),” Malone said. “Looking back to see how far I’ve come in the stroke over four years is humbling.”
Malone came remarkably close to defending her state title in the 100 backstroke, but she had to settle for second to Hart by .30 seconds. Malone had the lead, but Hart passed her after the final turn.
“It was disappointing, Malone said, “but the girl who beat me, I train with her, so I was happy for her.”
Malone is known to be a versatile swimmer — she won county in the 50 freestyle — Asher said she could put Malone in nearly any event and she would succeed.
“She’s been our anchor,” Asher said. “We could put her in any stroke. She’s confident. I loved watching her starts. She’s aggressive and can catapult off the blocks. The breaststroke isn’t her best event, but I wouldn’t hesitate to put Aja in anything.”
Aside from her individual titles, Malone also played a leadership role of a young Allatoona squad still building in numbers.
A full-time swimmer since she first took up the sport at the age of 5 — she’s never competed in any other sport — Malone is now focused on her college career at Northwestern, where she’s expected to compete in the same events she did at Allatoona.