Feature by Michael J. Stott
In December 2010, Swimming World polled four of the nation’s most prized high school swimmers regarding the college recruiting process. At the time, each stressed that their eventual selection came down to what felt like the proper fit. Upon graduation in May, we asked them if the chosen school matched their expectations.
The four were Elizabeth Beisel (Bluefish/University of Florida), Felicia Lee (North Baltimore Aquatic Club/Stanford), Kyle Whitaker (Duneland/University of Michigan) and Rachel Naurath (NOVA of Virginia/University of Virginia). Coming out of high school, each was a multi-event NISCA All-American, a member of USA Swimming’s National Junior Team and, if not already, became National Team members.
Each became an NCAA All-American and conference champion. Lee, Whitaker and Naurath became World University Games participants. Beisel and Lee medaled at the FINA World Championships and Beisel became a two-time Olympian earning silver in the 400 IM and bronze in the 200 back in London.
Today, we present the second of a two-part series with these four All-Americans. For part one, click here.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
In college, did you meet your expectations in terms of accomplishments and of getting better?
Naurath — University of Virginia: (9x NCAA All-American, USA Swimming National Team member 2010-2011, 4x ACC champion, on UVA’s top 10 in five events, doubled majored in Foreign Affairs and French, had mononucleosis during her senior year).
“Yes and no. I didn’t ever really achieve the times I wanted, but I can look back and feel like I exceeded all my expectations. I never thought I would emerge this strong, confident and prepared for the real world as I am now.
My expectations really changed from first year to now. First year I was very focused on swimming. As time went on I became more focused on the personal/academic aspect. There are so many opportunities at UVA. All it takes is recognizing them and going for whatever interests you most.”
Lee — Stanford University: (19x NCAA All-American, 5x NCAA champion, USA Swimming National Team member since 2009, 2x Pac-12 champion, holds school records in 100 back, 200 medley relay, 800 free relay, in top 10 in four other events, 2014 Honda Sports Award winner for swimming and diving, majored in Human Biology with a concentration in Neuroscience and Sports Medicine.
“I came into college with really high expectations. In 2010, I had just come off one of my best swimming seasons and I wanted to ride that into my first year in college. Things didn’t quite come together for me until my junior year after recovering from shoulder surgery. But the work from junior season really was the platform for my success this year. While the first two years didn’t meet my expectations, the last two years might have exceeded them. I ended my career with some NCAA titles (200/400 free and medley relays, 100 fly) and huge lifetime bests.”
Whitaker — University of Michigan: 14x NCAA All-American, USA Swimming National Team member 2013-2014, 2013 World University Games team member, 6x Big Ten champion, holds school record in 200 IM, is third in the 400 IM, majoring in History.
“Yes. I dropped time in a lot of different events and got a lot of great exposure swimming around the country and internationally (such as WUGs last summer). At Michigan, we are always striving to get better and change the world (something the coaches always preached to us). I am still improving and still have a lot to learn. Winning the national championship (2013) was something we always talked about when we were recruited, so achieving that was very fulfilling. I accomplished a lot academically as well. Our team GPA last semester was a 3.26 and I was able to contribute to that.”
Beisel — University of Florida: 18x NCAA All-American, 2x NCAA champion, 9x SEC champion, USA Swimming National Team member since age 13, 2013, 2011, 2009 FINA World Championship medalist (400 IM champion, 2011), 2008-2012 Olympian, holds school records in 200 IM, 400 IM, 800 free relay and is in school top 10 in eight other events, awarded 2014 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship, majored in Telecommunications-news.
“In my opinion, my collegiate career definitely fell a bit short. I was great in dual meets and at SECs every year, but at NCAAs I always underperformed. Although not swimming as well as I wanted to at NCAAs, I believe my underperformance there was the reason why I was able to come back motivated to get better and have great summer seasons. I have gotten exponentially better since I have gotten to Florida, but it just never showed up at NCAAs.”
Did you change events once you got to college or just perfect the specialties that made you a prized recruit?
“Actually, yes. Once I started lifting, my body really changed and I was unable to swim fly as effortlessly as I had in high school. That was pretty tough for me, but I eventually accepted it for what it was. My freestyle really improved though, and I was able to swim all ranges. I was kind of able to do that in high school (2010 NCSA Juniors champion in the 100, 200, 500, 1000, 1650 yard free and 200 fly), but I think my sprint free especially caught all of us by surprise towards the end. I dropped something like a second and a half in my 50 during my time at UVA.”
“My best short course event coming into college was the 400 IM and was my only NCAA A cut. Luckily for me, I came in with a class that had three really good 400 IMers, so I could be used elsewhere. I was pretty versatile which made picking events hard. Even now, I swim a pretty wide range. At 2014 NCAAs I had the 100 fly, 100 back, 200 IM and then 50 free and 100 free on relays. I also tried my hand at the 200 back, 200 fly and was on an 800 free relay.”
“I kept with the events that I was mainly recruited for (200 IM, 400 IM and 200 fly). Toward my junior and senior years, I was able to branch out a little more during the season and swim other events like the 200 breast, 200 back and sprint relays. Having that change kept me fresher.”
“I definitely stayed within the same events for my first three years of school, but my senior year I became more of a distance freestyler, which I am still coming to terms with! I have always been a versatile swimmer, so I generally just let Troy put me in wherever he needed me.”
Three of you had coaching changes while you were enrolled. How did that affect your attitude and performance?
“The coaching change greatly altered my view of the athletic department at UVA. As a whole, we very much like the new staff, but were very upset with how the administration handled the entire process.
The new coaching staff has a very different mentality and training style. I was glad it was my class who helped lead the transition. I hope we made it as easy as possible for the coaches. It was fun to show the coaches around like recruits and share with them all of the amazing things about this place that we love so very much.
It took about half a year for me to get used to the new training. It was difficult at first, but as a team we all stayed very positive. This year, our team was very close because we wanted to communicate our traditions and show the coaches how we function as a unit. My performance at the end of the year was far above my expectations. I had mono a few weeks before ACCs and was not expecting to swim as well as I did.”
“It was the beginning of my junior year when Greg Meehan and Tracy Duchac took over Stanford Swimming. It’s funny…. Beisel actually texted me the day of Greg’s hiring telling me how lucky I was to have him as a coach and told me to be excited. I didn’t really know much about Greg, but hearing that from someone like Beisel made me excited about the possibilities of the future. Plus, at the time I was still fresh off of shoulder surgery, which to me, was the first step at rebooting my career.
There were a lot of factors and transitions for me at the beginning of junior year, but it felt like a blank slate and I was super excited to see what would happen. In terms of attitude, Greg and Tracy reminded me just how fun swimming is. They helped to reignite the passion I had and that showed in practices and competition which translated into successful performances.”
Was the coaching change a negative for your performance?
“No. It was just very different in a positive sense. I think the staff wished they had more time with us since it is very hard to come in and only have one year with the graduating class. It is hard to accomplish much in a year in our sport. I became very close with the coaches of the groups I trained with. I can’t wait to see how they do going forward! I’ll be at every meet I possibly can.”
“Honestly, the coaching change was probably what I needed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some of the best coaches in the world, for which I am extremely thankful. But at the time, I wasn’t doing or performing at the level I knew I could. I just clicked with Greg and Tracy which was an overwhelming positive for my performances.”
What was the highlight of your college swimming career?
“The highlight came with the training — which I will miss. I love the hard work; the feeling of finishing something you did not think you could do. I loved the competition in practice and the camaraderie we built throughout the year. I live by my hard work and it will always be my favorite part of swimming. It made me into the person I am today.
“If I had to pick a specific race, it would probably be either our NCAA 800 free relay my second year, when we broke our school record despite Lauren Perdue (Olympian) being out of the NCAA 800 free relay this year. In 2014, I was able to swim with my close friends Caroline Kenney, Hanne Borgerson and Leah Smith.
“Definitely this past year at NCAAs in Minnesota. Overall, we performed beyond expectations. As a team, we had set a goal to just get a trophy back at Stanford after sliding to eighth place last year. To come back with a second-place trophy was somewhat unexpected.
The whole atmosphere and attitude our team exuded was exciting. It was incredible watching Maya DiRado win her first NCAA title, Katie Olsen destroying the 200 breast team record, Lia Neal fighting her way to a second-place finish in the 100 free, setting an American/US Open/NCAA record in the 400 medley relay, not to mention winning four relays, and finally winning my first NCAA title in the 100 fly. We never won a national championship during my four years at Stanford, but that meet felt pretty dang close to it.”
“Being a part of the national championship team in 2013 and this year at NCAAs, finally being a part of the 200 and 400 free relays. I love swimming for the team here, and being on those relays, it doesn’t get any better.”
“Definitely watching the men’s team win SECs in 2013 and breaking Auburn’s 16-year winning streak. We were always the underdogs, and it’s always great to see the underdog win…especially when it’s your best friends. Auburn is an absolutely incredible program, so to say that our men were able to break a 16-year long streak of one of the best programs in the country says a lot about Florida, the coaches and the pride we have. I say ‘we’ because I train mostly with the men and can’t express how proud I am of them.”
INTO THE FUTURE
Any final thoughts?
“WAHOO WAH. This is the best place on earth. How many other people can say they walk past a UNESCO World Heritage site every day on the way to class?”
“College swimming is awesome. Be pumped. Get ready. And have fun.”
“I will continue to swim for exercise, but have no plans to compete for awhile. I want to do something in government and would love to be in Charlottesville or Washington, D.C.”
Swam her first events as a professional at the Speedo Grand Challenge at the end of May. She will swim through the summer and then decide where to go next.
“I still have a semester left of classes. I plan to stay in Ann Arbor and train as a post-grad on our pro team though 2016. I am really excited because of how much and how fast our pro group has grown in the past few years. In the meantime, I am still figuring out what I will do in furthering my education whether it’s graduate school classes or perhaps law school.”
“I plan on swimming past 2016. I just signed a contract with Speedo that goes through 2017 so I will be swimming until at least then. For a career, I would love to do something with sports broadcasting — whether it’s the Olympics or football. I love sports and something like working for ESPN or NBC would be a dream come true.”