In Final NCAAs for NC State, Sophie Hansson Grateful for the Journey

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Sophie Hansson; Photo Courtesy: Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

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In Final NCAAs for NC State, Sophie Hansson Grateful for the Journey

Plenty of swimmers at this spring’s NCAAs Championships will be on deck as newly minted Olympians. Sophie Hansson will be one of the few with two Olympics to her name.

It’s one of many ways in which the NC State senior is unique, even in a field of the most elite swimmers. Many less distinguished swimmers, particularly non-Americans, would cash in their second Olympics by turning pro. But the fact that the Helsingborg, Sweden, native returned for her senior season speaks not just to her goals in Raleigh but the central place NC State holds in Hansson’s journey.

“I don’t think I would be where I am today if it weren’t for NC State,” Hansson said recently. “I owe a lot of my success to them and the coaches here. I’ve taken the next step every single year here. I’ve become better from my freshman to my senior year. So I don’t think I would be able to go pro, like I hope to do in a few weeks, if it weren’t for coming here and swimming on this team.”

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Sophie Hansson; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Hansson was an Olympian before NC State, swimming the 100 breast at the Rio Olympics in 2016 the week she turned 18. But training at NC State has elevated her career in so many ways.

The biggest factor, she said, is unseen to most: The day-to-day battles waged in practice, and the discipline that imposes rep after rep not to get left behind.

“We really have a great team environment,” she said. “It’s like a family feeling here. We really have a lot of fun during practice, and we have such a good team and we are able to push each other to the next level in practice, which is something that I really, really appreciate and has definitely helped me to take that next step to raise my standard in every single practice I do.

“If I’m not on my toes every day in practice, I will get beat. And I do not like to get beat.”

Hansson has gotten the best of both worlds at NC State, testing herself in the NCAA crucible with a schedule that allows her to partake in major international meets. This year, that meant the normal fall college slate before World Short-Course Championships in Dubai. Part of a special generation of Swedish female swimmers, Hansson won a pair of medley relay gold medals, plus silver in the women’s 100 breast and bronze in the 50 breast. She added a 400 free relay bronze as Sweden finished fifth on the medal table. Hansson is also the reigning European long-course champion in the 100 breast.

That Swedish team is immensely close, with Hansson and older sister Louise Hansson at the center of those bonds. But even that doesn’t compare to how college swimming’s team focus unites a squad like NC State.

“Coming from Europe, swimming is more focused on the individual sport, which I feel like compared to here, it’s more of a team sport because it’s about the points for the team,” she said. “I think it’s a different environment. At NCAAs or ACCs, getting a victory there is a victory for every single one on the team and not just me, so it’s a pretty cool feeling. …

“Even though we have a great feeling with the national team – I feel like we’re a family, too – but we still don’t compete with points like we do here. There’s not, how many points Sweden can get compared to another country, so it’s not as much a team competition.”

That competitiveness has brought out the best, as it did with Louise’s career at USC that yielded three NCAA titles in butterfly and 10 Pac-12 crowns. Difficult as the balance of schooling and athletics can be, Sophie Hansson said it’s easier in the U.S. where the pathway exists to merge studies and swimming under the same roof. Having to piece university classes around club training in Europe would be more complex, and since her family has prioritized education, the American college structure was the ideal fit.

“It shows you can get an education here while still fully being committed to swimming, which really was what me and my sister were going for,” she said. “We wanted to give it all in swimming, but we wanted to have something to fall back on the day we decide to not swim anymore, to have a good education so that we can get a career in another profession.”

Hansson completed a four-year sweep of 100 breast titles at ACCs, in a conference record 56.72 seconds. That makes 11 career ACC titles, denied a sweep in the 200 breast by Alex Walsh’s conference record. Hansson was on three Wolfpack relays that earned silver medals, against blockaded by the Virginia powerhouse.

The 17-time All-American is looking to build on the four NCAA titles she netted last year, doing the breaststroke double to pair with two medley relay crowns.

As to whether she derives any pressure from the past, Hansson is looking at the big picture. Her college career has mere weeks left. Like Louise, her versatility will have no problem finding suitors in the International Swimming League when she turns pro. She’s less zeroed in on any pressure than in enjoying the wider view of her long and fruitful journey.

“I’m really excited to go and I think it’s pretty incredible to look at the results and see breaststroke and how it’s developed over the last couple of years,” she said. “Statistically, the 100 and 200 breaststroke has improved a lot and it’s really cool to see. I think it helps us as athletes and it’s really pushed me to get to the next level and be able to try and get that title again.”

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Breezeway
3 months ago

Go Sophie!!!🐺