SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, March 13. WE continue our series featuring first-time NCAA Division I championship qualifiers with a senior who waited three months to see if she would qualify for the biggest meet of the season.
Name: Nicole Ligeza
Year, school: Senior, Utah
Events she’ll swim: 100 and 200 breaststroke
Swimming World: Congratulations on qualifying for the NCAA championships! How does it feel to finally get an invite to the meet in your senior year?
Nicole Ligeza: Just so many emotions. Excited and anxious mostly. I am ready to go and I finally feel like all of my hard work is being rewarded. At the same time, it is also very bittersweet. Growing up in Illinois as an age group swimmer, we attended Sectionals almost every summer in Minnesota, so it will be really nostalgic to finish my last collegiate meet at a pool where I first started experiencing my swimming success.
SW: What has it felt like to not end your collegiate career at the Pac 12 conference meet, but at the Big Meet?
Ligeza: NCAAs has been the main focus all season. Everything we did leading up to this point was all in preparation for this meet and I feel really confident about my team and myself going into it. We have all put in the work and now it is time to have some fun together.
SW: You went 1:00.64 at the USA Swimming nationals back in December to qualify for the NCAAs. Was there talk of trying to swim faster or were you sure the time would get you into the meet?
Ligeza: At first I was shocked when I saw my time, because it had been something I have visualized for so many years. The feeling that you get when you look up at the board and you see your goal time posted next to your name feels absolutely unreal. It’s something swimmers strive for but rarely experience it, so I will really cherish that memory.
SW: You’ll be joined in the 100 breast with your teammate Stina Colleou. How have the two of you been working together to get faster at the NCAAs?
Ligeza: Stina Colleou has been one of the best training partners I have ever had. We practice together every day, so having her by my side keeps me motivated. We try and exchange words of encouragement at the wall when we can, especially when we are given tough sets. It lets us both know that we are in it together, which makes it a lot easier mentally. We not only get to push one another and compete but the camaraderie that we share in and out of the pool is so genuine.
SW: You set a school record and dropped more than a second off your best time this season. Tell me about the training you’ve put in to make that happen?
Ligeza: This year was about putting everything that I had learned from previous years and applying it to my everyday training regimen. From small technical aspects within my strokes, to nutrition and weight training and visualization, it comes down to the little things which become positive habits that make all the difference.
SW: Utah has had a great season. What kind of atmosphere have you and the rest of the team built to make that happen?
Ligeza: We stand by each other 100 percent. Regardless of the outcome, we are there to make the best experience out of the opportunities we are given and to represent the University of Utah with pride.
SW: You also get to swim the 200 breast in Minneapolis. Which event do you like better?
Ligeza: I would have to say that I am more geared towards sprint breaststroke. In the 100, there is no time to think. You need to trust yourself and your training and just go for it. I love taking in the energy of the pool from my teammates and coaches before a fast race because it gives you a huge adrenaline rush. While the 200 breaststroke is an event where it is more of a controlled sprint, you need to be able to stay calm and really focus on your strategy.
SW: Any plans to continue competing after the NCAAs?
Ligeza: As of right now, I want to see what I can do at NCAAs and then I can evaluate my options moving forward.