Section: Sports

Behind the scenes of the NCAAs: a Lady’s point of view

Behind the scenes of the NCAAs: a Lady’s point of view

By Hannah Cooper

Representing Kenyon at the NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] meet is an honor and a privilege. We work for months, over 20 hours a week, training twice a day, for only four days of competition, with the aim of hopefully dropping just a few seconds, or tenths of seconds. As the meet approaches, our coaches, Jess [Book, head coach], Doug [Lennox, assistant coach], Nando [Rodriguez, senior assistant coach] and Andy [Scott, diving coach] work with us meticulously, making sure every detail is in order. On Monday morning we load onto the buses dressed in our best clothes to represent Kenyon as the classy people we are. 

When we arrived in Houston, Texas, we drove to the hotel to unpack, each of us taking some time to bond with our roommate for the week. The person you room with at a championship meet is not to be overlooked, because they are there to share in your excitement or disappointment after each session once the team has said goodnight. I could not have asked for a better, more supportive roommate than first-time national team-member Sarah Lloyd ’17.

This first day is anticipation to its fullest. We go to the pool to get a feeling for the space, to practice on different walls, different blocks, in different lighting. The Houston pool is surprisingly yellow, and no, not just because we all pee in it, but because of the odd lighting. It takes getting used to, as Jess will not let us leave anything to chance. That initial swim feels relaxed, but we know that our time there is precisely calculated by Jess. We go get Italian food for dinner, and again we leave exactly on time. I happened to sit near him for that meal and watched his leg twitch as the time approached for us to leave. Jess has to be sure we leave the restaurant according to schedule to be sure we do not eat too much or go to bed too late. His responsibilities, like those of the other coaches, extend so much farther than just those of a swim coach.

With Tuesday comes a reality check. It is now only one day until the competition begins. We finally get to shave our legs — the first time since our training trip over winter break. Tuesday goes fast, way faster than any of us anticipate. We all swim, eat, relax, and then it’s time to get dressed up for the NCAA banquet, a dinner put on by the NCAA committee to honor all those who qualified for the meet. We had a nice time and ate some good food, but mostly it’s a blur now because at least for me, my mind began to drift to the next day.

Wednesday is the first day, and with those words comes so much excitement. The first day is a day that can “set the tone” and so we arrive at the pool with the goal of being the loudest team on the pool deck. Our attitudes and cheering can affect the experience just as much as the actual swims. That first evening brought national titles and national records in the medley relays for both the Lords and Ladies. Amazing individual swims electrified the night. However, as Jess constantly reminds us, the only session that matters is the session that we are in. We celebrate the good swims and then move on. We can be frustrated or disappointed about the bad swims, but then we move on. And so we moved on.

Thursday dawned, and we were no longer fresh, but we had also shed those early jitters. We were focused. Thursday again brought the amazing and frustrating parts of sports that (sometimes annoyingly) are there to teach you a life lesson: life isn’t easy, you have to fight for what you want, and even then you may not get it.

The third day, Friday, brought pain, but it was the good pain you can only get from competing all-out. Our muscles were tired and sore, and many of us could barely fathom during warm-up how we were going to race at our peak performance yet again, but of course we did. Friday brought with it best times for many swimmers, but for Jess, that is not always enough. That morning he told us that we needed to relax, to “try less,” to just swim. That night, I think we did. The third day of the NCAA is taxing, and it is then that you realize what you have put your body through, that you still have another full day, and the pressure you are under. You can let this fear cripple you quite easily and shrink away. But we are trained, mentally as well as physically, not to do this. The Lords and Ladies both feel a sense of pride from our history and from the current year’s work that we can do anything.

The last day, Saturday, never feels like it’s the end. The excitement as our own Harrison Curley ’15 smashed a national record in the 200 back goes by in a whirlwind of congratulations. Even after we get our big team trophies it is almost impossible to grasp that this team, the 2015 team (both the NCAA team and the full Kenyon swim and dive team) will never compete as one again. The seniors are graduating, a new class coming soon to take our place. As former coach Jim Steen always said, you do not swim four years at Kenyon; you swim one year, four times. The emphasis is on one year at a time. Each is different, with different teammates, and different triumphs and tribulations in and out of the pool.

Hannah Cooper ’15 is a psychology major and seven-time All-American finisher from Houston, Texas.

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