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 first of a two-part series with these four All-Americans.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Looking back, was your choice of school the right one for you athletically, academically and socially?
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).
“A million times, yes! The academic opportunities at UVA are unbelievable. I was able to have incredible support while double majoring in two challenging fields. I had some pretty amazing professors and I expect those relationships to last.
As far as swimming goes, I would not be the same woman I am today without the guidance of Mark Bernardino and Doak Finch. It was heartbreaking to lose them for my last year, but the new staff, especially Clif Robbins and Cory Chitwood, will continue to improve the program.
Swimming for UVA really made me grow into a stronger, more confident person. I will leave this school so much the better for my four years. My third year I decided I wanted to define myself by something other than swimming so I went out and got involved in a lot of different organizations around Grounds. I have always been super involved with Student Athlete Mentors, but I also was a part of fourth year class council (Trustees) along with other groups. The social scene at UVA is also pretty incredible…just ask Playboy…”
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.
“While in the process of committing to a college, it seemed like the hardest decision of my life. But looking back, I don’t know why. These past four years at Stanford have been nothing short of amazing. The opportunities, the atmosphere, the people—it all leaves me speechless. And while being here has challenged me academically, athletically, emotionally and physically, it was just what I needed and has helped mold me into who I am today.
Socially…what can I say? I’ve met some incredible people. I am lucky to have a close group of friends on both the men’s and women’s swim team, especially in my class. Not only that, but because of both Stanford’s relatively low undergraduate population and the fact they room freshmen athletes with non-athletes in dorms, I’ve gotten the chance to meet some impressive individuals. It’s just cool to see how accomplished the Stanford class of 2014 is.”
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.
“Michigan was absolutely the perfect choice. When I was being recruited I was very impressed with Michigan’s long tradition of excellence in the pool and classroom. The bonds with my teammates, coaches and professors are some that I will have for the rest of my life. I had been to many Michigan swim camps in my age group days and it was always a dream to compete and be a part of a team and culture that is unlike any other.”
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.
“Attending the University of Florida ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. Athletically, I have accomplished more than I could have ever asked for. Academically, I have gotten an education at one of the top schools in the country in one of the best Journalism colleges in the world. This was huge in my decision since I have known what I wanted to major in since high school.
Socially, I think I would have fit in anywhere. While recruiting Florida had a special place in my heart because of the people I connected with. I can confidently say I have best friends on every single continent (minus Antarctica) thanks to the University of Florida.
What, if anything, would you have changed about your four college years?
“I would have taken a lot of pressure off of myself while swimming. I would have worked over the summer (an internship or something) to make finding a job easier. That’s my biggest challenge right now. I swam my final year free of pressure and nerves.
While it might not have been my most successful year in the pool (thanks, mono), it was my best year academically as well as mentally. I also would have joined organizations outside swimming earlier.
Being involved out of the pool gives you a much better perspective about swimming. I roomed with non-athletes this year and they have helped me remember that what I do is actually pretty cool, and that I am lucky to be doing it.”
“I don’t know if I would have changed anything. I’m a believer that everything happens for a specific reason—good or bad. Sure, there are some things I wish went differently or didn’t happen, but without those moments I wouldn’t have had the chance to learn and grow from those experiences. While it seems like in those particular moments it was the worst thing, looking back it helped shape who I am today and how I will be as I enter the real world.”
“There is nothing that I would’ve changed. It was quite an adventure and a complete blast. I just wish it wasn’t over. I am going to miss it.”
“Not a thing. I have definitely had my ups and downs, but the downs are what have molded me into a stronger and more mature person. I wouldn’t trade my accomplishments or my failures for anything. All I would change (if I could) is how fast the past four years went by. I would do anything to relive the past four years.”
What would you have changed, if anything, about the way you went about the college recruiting process?
“Honestly, very little. I took my first trip to UVA and absolutely loved it, but I was glad I took four more. Taking those other trips really helped me be more confident in my decision.”
“I was joking about this recently. I wish I had started the process earlier and had come to my trips prepared with questions. For some reason, I had this notion that I would just stay in Baltimore forever and “forgot” that I actually needed to leave sometime soon. Or, perhaps, I thought I had more time.
Whatever it was I ended up scrambling to narrow down my list. I’m impressed with the recruits that come to campus with well thought out questions, because it seems like they are genuinely interested and thinking about their futures.”
“I took a handful of unofficial and only two official visits. I wouldn’t have changed that because when it really came down to making a decision I felt that only having a few options was better than having many.
“I would have taken my last two trips. I only went to Cal, Texas and Florida. The recruiting trips are by far some of the most fun weekends I have had in my life. Having two more of those would have been really fun. At the time, my club coach and I agreed on only taking three to make the decision-making process easier. And it did, but I would have liked to look at other schools just to see what else was out there.”
Were the coaches as attentive to you after you enrolled as they were during the recruiting process?
“I found the coaching staff much more attentive after I arrived. I was able to form amazing relationships with my coaches and found that they truly cared most about making the swimmers into the best possible people. Under Mark, we all became ‘Virginia Men’ or ‘Virginia Women.’ I think that is what the goal of every program should be—swimming should be secondary to generally becoming a more whole, well-rounded person. If you achieve that the swimming will follow.”
“I believe so. I didn’t really have a lot of issues or concerns during my first couple quarters at Stanford. But if, and whenever, an issue would come up, I was directed to the best person to deal with it.”
“The coaches at Michigan are incredibly attentive to the concerns or thoughts we have. I think that is something that really sets the coaching staff here apart from anywhere else. We have a large team. The coaches do a great job of being inclusive and being involved with what we do.”
“Absolutely. Coach Troy is known for his honesty and he will never sugarcoat things. What you see is what you get. While he was recruiting me I knew exactly what to expect when I signed. This is one of the reasons I chose Florida.”
When did you start your college recruiting process and was it early enough?
“I started looking at schools as early as sophomore year so I felt very prepared by the time senior year rolled around. I went and looked at some schools during my spring break my junior year and that also helped me to narrow down my search. I had a very good idea of what kind of school and program I was looking for, so I was kind of an anomaly that way.”
“Honestly, I think I started July 1 just because that was the day college coaches could call me. I wish I had started earlier and I wish I had been better prepared and equipped with questions.”
“I started my recruiting process on July 1. I took a couple of unofficial visits before that to prepare myself for the process and visit places I was interested in. For me I started early enough. One thing I probably would have done differently was either have taken more unofficial visits and gotten more exposure to colleges earlier on.”
“I started in September of my senior year. It was definitely early enough. I think I completed the entire process by Halloween. Getting it over quickly is definitely the way to go because it is extremely stressful and takes a lot of time and energy.”
What advice would you have now for high schoolers looking to swim in college?
“Don’t be afraid to look at programs you feel are ‘too good’ for you. I have found that it is the people who work the hardest with the least that are the most inspiring. And don’t be afraid to be a leader on the team your first year—that is how programs get better.”
“Enjoy the process of recruiting and be excited. Being part of the student-athlete culture and swimming in college has been one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of my life. It’s a truly special atmosphere, swimming not only for yourself, but also for your 23 teammates who become like family. Lots of people say there’s nothing like college swimming, and it’s absolutely true.”
“Start looking early, and take unofficial visits. Also before July 1, sit down and develop some questions you can ask coaches when they call. Don’t spend too much time on the phone with one college, but if you miss calls always make sure to return them as soon as you can.”
“Go with your gut feeling and go where YOU are the most comfortable. You are going to college for yourself, not for your parents or your siblings or your coaches. This is a chance for you to pave your own path and it will not be a smooth road if you continuously make decisions to please other people. Recruiting is a time to be selfish. College is the best four years of your life and you should be able to do it wherever you want.”