Colin Wright Put William & Mary on Map With First NCAA Qualification In Decades

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Photo Courtesy: College of William & Mary / TribeAthletics.com

Colin Wright was ready to represent William & Mary on the national stage before COVID cancellations.

The men’s sprint freestyle events at the 2020 NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships had the usual cast of characters. Defending champion Ryan Hoffer of Cal was the top seed in the 50 free ahead of teammate Pawel Sendyk, who was second to Hoffer the year prior. Big Ten champ Bruno Blaskovic figured to be a contender, as was Texas’ Daniel Krueger and Alabama’s Zane Waddell.

But there was one name on the psych sheet that a lot of people did not recognize – senior Colin Wright from William & Mary.

Even though Wright did not get the chance to swim in his first and only NCAA championships because of COVID-19, he became the first male swimmer from William & Mary to make the NCAA championships since Ron Good in 1963 and diver Shawn McLane in 1986.

It had been a long time coming for Wright, who was seeded fourth in the 50 free (18.98) and eighth in the 100 (42.01) for NCAAs.

“After my freshmen season when I went 19.6 I had dropped about a second in the 50 from high school,” Colin Wright told Swimming World. “At that point I set a goal that I wanted to go 18 at the end of my senior year. I didn’t have a specific time – I just wanted an 18. I knew I could do it and I had my focus on that.

“I only started thinking a lot about my NCAA goals after my freshman year was successful. I really didn’t know what I was capable of in the sport until after that year. That was really what set the tone for the rest of my career.”

“He was laser focused and super consistent,” said William & Mary head coach Nate Kellogg, who had seen Wright’s development throughout his four years. “That’s the difference. He’s had this talent all along. I remember his first duel meet as a freshman – he was on our B 200 medley relay the first event. He split a 20.1 and all the coaches looked at each other like ‘wow, this guy has some talent.’ He has ridden that all the way.”

Coming into this season, Wright’s best time in the 50 was 19.46, and with the cumulative experience of having four years of college swimming under his belt, he was determined to finish his William & Mary career on the right note. He had been stagnant around 19-mid for three years leading into his senior season, but kept focusing on minor details and refinement of his stroke – it finally helped him break through to a sub-19.

“Dropping four or five tenths in the 50 is a huge task,” Kellogg said. “We really focused on start, breakout, turn, finish. He is about as good as it gets with swimming on top of the water. His start is not terribly explosive and he is not the best underwater kicker. He is pretty good into the turn and same thing with his finish – I kept seeing his tempo really drop off so that was what we honed in on pretty much every day in practice.”

At his final conference championships, Wright had three opportunities to try and break 19 in the 50 freestyle. In the heats, he swam a 19.17, shattering his best time by three tenths. In the finals, he was a 19.18 and jammed his hand on the finish, shaking him up before the 200 freestyle relay that night. He had a diving break to recover from his painful finish, but didn’t think he could go faster in leading off the relay.

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Colin Wright. Photo Courtesy: College of William & Mary

“The relays are always super exciting and it gets you pumped up,” Wright said.

Using that excitement of the relay, he blew through the water with an 18.98, en route to the Tribe winning the conference title at 1:17.42.

“It was actually really unexpected,” Wright said of breaking the 19 second barrier. “I didn’t think I had that good of a race but then I saw the time so it was super exciting.”

“Everybody was screaming and I gave him a fist bump and a high five and he goes, “I can go faster,'” Kellogg said. “I was like, ‘what do you mean?’ and he said ‘I forgot to tie my suit’ so I was like alright good we have some gas left in the tank then.

“I don’t think there was anything magical to it – I think he worked for it and he definitely earned it.”

That swim put him fourth in Division I and solidified his ticket to the NCAA Championships, the first William & Mary men’s swimmer to qualify since 1963.

“That’s been the charge all along – to get folks qualified to NCAAs,” Kellogg said. “We didn’t want to just qualify – we want to go and be a scorer and an All-American on the podium. That’s what we talked to our team about, we don’t want to go just to go. Let’s go to make some noise.”

“I had known not a lot of people had made NCAAs for us,” Wright said. “It had been my goal to make NCAAs and I knew I should have been able to do it going into the meet. It was really nice because that time was very likely to go so after that race it was a little bit of a relief.”

But two weeks before the championships, COVID-19 caused the meet to get cancelled in order to slow down the virus, and Wright missed his chance to compete at the national level. Luckily for him, he was still able to achieve one of his time goals for the season.

“I’m really glad I was able to break 19 before NCAAs because that would have been even more upsetting to not have that second opportunity,” Wright said. “I was still hoping to go a little faster at NCAAs but I’m really glad I got that 18 under my belt.”

He may have gotten the 18 in the 50, but the 41 in the 100 free still eluded him.

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Colin Wright. Photo Courtesy: College of William & Mary

“I still think I can do that, but it was at the end of the meet and I was really tired,” Wright said. “I went 42.01 so I was happy with that but I think I can do better. Going 18 in the 50 was a long term goal so that felt really good.”

“Obviously the 100 came on the last day and he had already swum seven or eight times – maybe even more than that,” Kellogg said. “He was pretty wiped out I could tell. We were planning to not swim the 200 free at NCAAs, and give him an extra day in the middle. On paper, the way Colin swims, as good as he is in the 50, I think he has more room to grow in the 100 just because he does not have the world’s greatest starts or world’s greatest underwaters.

“We wanted to get to that anaerobic power and speed work and that’s the type of stuff he just eats up. We weren’t going to make any changes but keep business as usual and hopefully with not as many races, would allow him to have a little bit more focus on the 50 and the 100.”

Colin Wright insists he is not done swimming, as he will continue on to the 2021 Olympic Trials that have been pushed back an extra 12 months. Last summer, he had a breakout nationals meet in the 50 free with a 22.49 and a 12th place finish, which was instrumental in his breakout season this year.

He is still weighing out his options of where he can go next year in the lead-up to the Olympic Trials, perhaps moving to New Jersey to swim under former William & Mary coach Matt Crispino at Princeton, but the uncertainties of which schools and campuses will open up this fall is keeping Wright from making any training moves. For now he is at his family home in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Colin Wright was just an average swimmer out of high school, boasting a 20.73 best time in the 50 free and 45.61 in the 100 as a senior in 2016. William & Mary had been a successful mid-major Division I program, sending four swimmers to the last two Olympic Trials, and winning the last six CAA men’s team championships. But the program had not had an NCAA swimmer or diver on the men’s side in 34 years, and Wright finally changed that in 2020, putting William & Mary, a school that does not offer scholarships to men’s swimming, on the national map.

“It was a good year but unfortunately all the COVID took a lot away from it,” Kellogg said. “I feel so bad for Colin and the rest of the seniors, especially the ones that made it for the first time. That’s an experience they will never get to have and of course it is nobody’s fault but my heart goes out to those folks.”

“It gives the recruits some confidence in the school like you can make NCAAs going here and it can give the recruits more confidence in the coaches and the program,” Wright said. “It’s great and it gives us a little more attention.”

“Our program has been built on the foundation of elite academics as well as elite swimming and I think our swimming is hopefully starting to catch up to the level of academics that William & Mary provides,” Kellogg said. “It’s something we’ve talked to our team and recruits about all the time that you don’t have to give up world class academics for high level swimming and the other way around. You can swim at the highest level and still get world class William & Mary education.

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