Courtney Harnish Poised for Big NCAAs After Dominating SEC Finale

500 Freestyle (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Photo Courtesy: Tony Walsh/Georgia Athletics

After watching her hard work for last year’s NCAA Championships disappear with the meet being canceled, Courtney Harnish was motivated. Going into her senior season, that motivation stemming from a devastating, negative situation, transformed into a newfound positive passion for the sport.

“This definitely gave me a different perspective, especially as a senior. This year, I felt like I get to go to practice instead of have to go to practice. I regained that love for swimming that I kind of lost. I found that passion that 12-year-old me had when I started,” Courtney Harnish told Swimming World.

Harnish is seeded second in the 500-yard freestyle heading into the NCAA Championships (4:35.33). She is also seeded fourth in the 200 freestyle (1:42.96) and sixth in the 200 butterfly (1:53.18).

It wasn’t easy to get to that point. Harnish spent nearly two months out of the water and was unsure if she would even get a senior season.

500M Freestyle (Photo by Tony Walsh)

Courtney Harnish. Photo Courtesy: Tony Walsh/Georgia Athletics

She responded with a dominating one. Harnish won the SEC championship in the 500-yard freestyle for the third consecutive season — the second woman in conference history to accomplish the feat, after Florida’s Tami Bruce won from 1986 – 1988.

“I definitely surprised myself. I had it drilled in my head since I was 12 that I couldn’t take more than two weeks off,” she said. “But I had a couple of months off. Don’t get me wrong, getting back into shape hurt. But it is making sure you start consistently.”

Harnish put in the work out of the water to be prepared.

“I did a lot of running and dryland work. My parents have some weights and I would get creative with those and try to run every day. I tried to do 3 miles a day. I had fun getting creative with it,” she said. “I would create my own circuits. We have build in ledges in my back yard. I would try to do my own circuits stepping up on things, squat jumping. It was finding different things around the house. When we got back, I thought I might be doing a little more sprinting, so I did a lot in the weight room.”

It paid off in her events as the York, Pennsylvania, native qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 200 free, 500 free and 200 butterfly, as well as relays.

Georgia swimmer Courtney Harnish (Photo by Chamberlain Smith)

Courtney Harnish. Photo Courtesy: Georgia Athletics

“I came from a club team where we did a lot of yardage training. I took that mentality into college, looking for a school that had similar training. I went from a 39 to a 35 and that was all Georgia,” Harnish said of her 500. “I did a lot of playing with it from freshman year to this year but what works best for me is finding that feel, holding onto it until the last 150 or so then really going for it. For me it is about consistency. The last time I swam the mile was sophomore year. Ever since then, I am training with Dakota Luther. She pushes me and I have learned to train my fly a lot more swimming next to her. I remember Jack (Baurle) telling me once he recruited me for my 200 fly.”

Harnish had her events on display at the SEC Championships.

“Our team was extremely happy with SECs. I am extremely proud of being on this team and what we did at SECs. We are fired up to carry that momentum into NCAAs,” Harnish said. “I was very happy with it. I actually had best times, which is all you can ask for. It is my favorite meet of the year. The atmosphere is crazy.”

Adding to the excitement was Harnish being named SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year.

“I was extremely honored. My mom told me it was my greatest accomplishment. That meant a lot. Georgia has really helped me to develop my academic side. It kind of made me excited for that next chapter when I finally hang up the goggles,” she said.

But first, she has one more meet — one that she wasn’t sure would happen, but will be an exciting way to close out her collegiate career.

“It means the world. I get to end my college career at the best meet,” Courtney Harnish said. “We swam in a season of uncertainty. You never knew the last time you would be in the pool. Being able to finish it the right way means the world to me.”

200 Butterfly (Photo by Tony Walsh)

Courtney Harnish. Photo Courtesy: Tony Walsh/Georgia Athletics