By LIZ EISEMAN
Sophomore swimmer Alex Anderson, a new record holder, and nine of his teammates had family members ready to cheer them through the NCAA Division III Championship Swim and Dive meet. The team made the trip to Shenandoah, Texas from March 20-23 to represent the University of Mary Washington.
For Anderson, the Eagles’ road to the championship was enjoyable, but the team also put in hours of work beforehand. “We all had a given routine,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s routine called for him to compete in the 400-meter individual medley (IM), 200-meter butterfly and 50-meter freestyle events.
The standing NCAA record before last month’s competition was 3:51.45. Anderson’s time was 3:50.55, shaving just about a second off the record time. Before the competition, he reconnected with a club teammate who knew the previous record holder.
“He was happy no one beat it [the previous season], but I said, ‘tell your friend I’m going to,’” Anderson said. In addition to breaking the record, Anderson managed to shave five seconds from his time from last year.
Anderson attributes his success to goal setting, making healthy choices and having an open mind to new swim styles in the pool.
“I do it by feel most of the time, tweak butterfly and breaststrokes, or sometimes coaches Abby [Brethauer] or Jake [Lewing] will give me something,” he said. “Little things I did differently were like practice goals. Best averages, trying to hold faster times than last year… swimming is such a self-centered sport; it’s just you against your own time.”
At the Championship, however, Anderson enjoyed watching Kenyon College’s men’s team compete, because its freestyle sprints were so well done. Anderson said the 100- meter and 50-meter sprints are his favorite races, since they are challenging for shorter swimmers. Height is certainly an advantage in sprints, but the 5-foot-9-inch athlete says it’s nice to see shorter swimmers outpace their taller competitors.
Looking to the future, Anderson says that he’ll see where the seasons at UMW take him. He enjoyed this season since it was UMW’s first with a nationally qualifying men’s relay team, which added a new focus for the “Aqua Eagles.”
Anderson will swim any event, saying that, next year, his goal will be to master the 200-meter fly event. His long-term goal is to make an Olympic trial cut. His teammates are also set to do great things in the water.
Senior Peter Slattery and freshman Katie Fago also reflected on their experiences in Shenandoah, their season and their overall swimming careers. Slattery was part of UMW’s first ever men’s relay team to qualify for the NCAA National Championships.
Slattery indicated that qualifying for NCAAs in the 400-meter medley relay with Anderson, sophomore Michael Yelmgren and senior Nick Eckhoff was the highlight of his NCAA swimming career.
“The CACs medley relay, looking at the scoreboard, seeing that time and knowing that we’re the first men’s relay team to ever make nationals, and knowing that we qualified. We did it,” Slattery said.
In addition to competing with the pioneering relay team, Slattery also competed individually in the 100-meter breaststroke event.
When asked about this swim he said, “I was sad that I would never have the opportunity to race again at that level, but grateful for the opportunity to do it.”
Fago, a freshman, just getting her toes wet and acquainted with college swimming, saw the Championship season as an up and coming athlete.
“At conferences, I wanted to see what it was all about. I was nervous, but more excited, and I was happy with the events I was swimming,” Fago said. “Our class is now definitely inspired and wants to be the first class to get someone in the top ten in every single event at NCAAs.”
When asked what she enjoyed most about her first trip to NCAAs, Fago said, “We got to really race. It was a fight.” Fago recognized that her most valuable lessons were learned through the daily process of hard work and training, not the trip to Shenandoah.
“[We] race in practice in order to get better,” Fago said. “The key is to race, race, race in the sets and push through the pain, and never back down from a race in practice.”
The future of UMW’s women’s swim team is promising. None of the four women who competed at Nationals this season will be graduating this year. Junior Amber Kerico, who earned All-American honors for the second straight season, is a junior, and Stephanie Hallock, Hannah Hagy and Fago are all freshmen.
“It’s our second chance. Coach Abby [Brethauer] kept saying this is a learning experience,” said Fago. “We got to go and test out the waters…We get to go back next year and know what we’re getting into; each of us is on the same page.”
Fago reflected on her first season of collegiate swimming, said the team’s camaraderie was what she loved most about it.
“I love how we all push each other in the weight room and in the pool,” Fago said. “We all always cheer for each other, no matter what. We are our biggest supporters, in the sport and in life.”