Drew Kibler Embracing New Mentality Heading into NCAAs, Olympic Trials

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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Drew Kibler started his first NCAA championships by leading off the very first event of the meet.

The Texas freshman and his Longhorn teammates went on to win the NCAA title in the 800 free relay and break the American record in the event.

What an opening statement.

But that is not where Kibler’s mind was.

“It is hard to describe the feeling of leading off the 800 free relay as a freshman, going against seven seniors,” Drew Kibler told Swimming World. “Winning the relay was really good, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of not going as fast as I was hoping. It was cool to get an American record with my friends, but I felt like I should have performed better. I am excited for another chance.”

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Kibler (middle) after the 800 free relay at NCAAs. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Now, Kibler has a new mentality, too.

“I made a lot of personal changes with the way I attack the season. I am getting to the point where I am mentally more capable of handling everything,” he said. “I am mentally much more ready to attack things.”

It started already this season as Kibler threw down some impressive times at the midseason invite for the Longhorns, who head to the Big 12 Championships this week.

Kibler went a 42.16 in the 100 free at the Minnesota Invitational, third fastest in the NCAA this season behind teammates Daniel Krueger (41.45) and Maxime Rooney (41.91). In the 200 free, he scorched a 1:30.83, the fastest time in the NCAA this season.

“It was really exciting. I think I can speak for most of the team when I say we were not expecting that,” Kibler said. “We were tired and doing a lot of training, but the change in mentality made all the difference in the world for that meet. On deck the dynamic was really fun. I am feeling really confident in the team right now. I am pretty proud of the adjustments we have made as far as mentality. We have focused on being the best we can be and it has allowed us to enjoy everything instead of feeling pressure.”

Coach Eddie Reese‘s Longhorns are looking to take that mentality into the NCAA championships, where the defending champion Cal Golden Bears will be waiting.

“Cal put up an amazing performance last year and were impressive top to bottom. That was inspiring for our whole team,” Drew Kibler said. “I am really excited for NCAAs. That is what it all comes down to. Times are fun, but when it comes down to it, it is a sport of racing. Just to make it there is incredible.

“Being part of a battle of proportions that we have seen calls on everybody to bring their very best. It shows the mental strength and physical strength of the athletes — especially going into an Olympic year, too.”

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Drew Kibler. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Cal and Texas have dominated the past decade, and that looks to remain the same for the next couple of years thanks to the core group of both teams. Kibler said that, in itself, is very exciting.

“It is really fun being apart of the next core,” he said. “I am realizing how important that chemistry is. If you don’t enjoy the people you spend hours and hours with every day, you can’t expect to give your best. This team works really hard, but when you are having fun with the guys between sets, it makes it much more doable. There is kind of a mob mentality about our team. If one person starts something, it catches on like wildfire. Ryan Harty for example is just known to belt out Bohemian Rhapsody, and then everyone starts singing it. That works for swimming when someone goes fast, it spreads.”

Kibler is making sure his new mentality is what is spreading throughout his season.

“My coaches asked me at the beginning of the season and I didn’t have any specific times,” he said. “I am trying something new and my goals are about being confident and mentally strong. I want to stand behind the blocks with a confidence rivaled by few.

“I have been reading a lot of Ian Thorpe lately. I was incredibly inspired by some of the things he had to say about his mindset going into races. I want to conquer fear this year. I think putting times and places on goals is kind of limiting. It is going to be a process that takes years, but that is something that I admire about the greatest athletes in the world.”

It is something he hopes to use at the U.S. Olympic trials. He wasn’t ready for that kind of thinking four years ago.

“I took a selfie at Olympic trials when I was 16 just so I could remember it. It was the look of terror. I know that I will not be like that again. I watched finals and couldn’t imagine how scary that would be. I am not really sure why I was like that,” he said. “I think NCAAs is a great preparation for Olympic trials. That is where I start to practice those mental goals.”

But the trials will be without the team vibe. Everyone is fighting for one team.

“This summer, there won’t be Cal and Texas — just team USA,” Drew Kibler said. “It is not a bad thing to get excited. There is definitely something to be said about knowing what you are capable of. My expectations are very high and if I achieve my personal goals of working harder and be in a mental state where it can show in the pool, I am very confident I will be happy with the result.”