Phoebe Bacon Eager to Show Off Freshman Year Improvements in NCAA Debut

Photo Courtesy: Wisconsin Athletics

Phoebe Bacon Eager to Show Off Freshman Year Improvement in NCAA Debut

Like much of the freshmen class that spent their first year of college in a global pandemic, Wisconsin’s Phoebe Bacon’s experience was no different than the rest of her peers. Normal opportunities were taken away from her because of the COVID pandemic – no fall football games, no team outings, and no fall dual meets. But with the help of the coaching staff at Wisconsin, Bacon’s freshman year was a time for growth – a chance to become a better person in and out of the pool.

“It was a little tricky, especially going into these long practice weeks and not having a meet to look forward to,” Bacon said of the difficult fall semester. “We had no idea when our next meet was. We were just told to be hopeful we will have competition this year.

“The coaches kept the practices interesting. Most Tuesdays we would call them ‘hat day’ and it was getting up on the blocks early in the morning and doing some racing, whether it was doing broken 300s, broken 200s, or racing 50s to keep you in that ‘we are here to race’ idea. Those were some of my favorite practices.

“They were probably some of the hardest practices we did too but I loved them and those kept me in the mentality of ‘I just have to keep pushing through and keep racing in the practices we have opportunities to race in.’ Hopefully we would have some type of season and we did a few intrasquad meets which were also incredible. I swam a line-up like we would in a dual meet and we did relays beginning and end. They pinned us against each other red vs. white so we got that whole cheering atmosphere and getting excited to get up on the blocks to race.”

It was that spontaneity that kept Bacon engaged in her first year in Madison. And with the “training only” fall semester, she became a much better underwater dolphin kicker, thanks to being held to a higher standard by head coach Yuri Suguiyama and training partner Beata Nelson, who is the NCAA record holder in the 100 and 200 backstroke.

“Coming into this environment with Beata and a few others, I can tell Yuri really likes to have his swimmers have good underwaters so those have gotten a lot better. The amount of pace work that we do mostly for my 200 back – it’s being able to hold consistent times that are fast, just over and over and over. Some of the times that I’ve gone here in long course and short course are times I wouldn’t even imagine myself being able to hold or go.

“I’m working my way to 15 (underwater) off each wall in a 200. I’m not there yet!”

The increased specificity helped her win two Big Ten titles – both backstrokes and the 200 IM. Bacon had entered this season as one of the top swimmers in the nation, as she was, and still is, one of the dark horse favorites to make the Tokyo Olympic team in the 100 and 200 backstroke. Changing coaches and environments is always tricky a year before the Olympics, and some of her peers – Regan SmithLillie Nordmann, and Emma Weyant, elected to stay home for one more year to train with their club coaches, while others decided to start college on normal time this year.


Phoebe Bacon at Big Tens. Photo Courtesy: Wisconsin Athletics

“I think everyone is ready to move on at some point and whether that’s a year late or a year early, you need a change. I needed a change,” Phoebe Bacon said. “I felt like Yuri and the coaching staff up here could get me where I wanted. They have the best ideas in mind and I ultimately decided that coming up here would be the best for me, both having a big change and going somewhere new with a chance to live on my own.

“I have faith in Yuri, Kristy (Brager) and Jennah (Haney) that no matter what they ask me to do, I’m going to do it. I’m going to keep pushing and they’re going to keep pushing me.”

The Wisconsin staff has quietly been building a strong team in Madison since Suguiyama took over in the fall of 2018. In his first season, Madison native Beata Nelson swept her three events at NCAAs to become just the second Wisconsin Badger to win an NCAA title in women’s swimming and diving. A couple weeks later, Wisconsin secured a verbal commitment from Bacon, and this past fall, they opened up their brand new 50m pool facility on campus.

“There’s a lot of excitement building especially with some of the sophomores and juniors who have thought about next year being really crazy with the freshmen class coming in under me. If you look at some of the names in that class, it is a fast class and it is going to be really exciting to have them come here, start in the new facility.

“There was a mentality shift when we went from swimming in that outdoor pool to swimming in the brand new pool, and having long course a few times a week and all the different equipment we have access to there with the underwater camera and the buckets, blocks with wedges, it is pretty incredible.”

All in all, Wisconsin will have four women swimming in individual events at NCAAs this week, and none of them are seniors – two freshmen and two juniors. Of course this doesn’t mean Wisconsin is guaranteed to do well and score high with a young team in place, but the excitement is still there, considering it’s the first NCAA meet for anyone in two years. In Bacon’s first NCAA meet and college season, she has had to shift her mentality to performing for the greater good of the team.


Phoebe Bacon celebrates a Big Ten title. Photo Courtesy: Wisconsin Athletics

“Coming in here it is a lot more intimidating than going to, like NCSAs, and it is just a big change that has come to me. With dual meets and Big Ten’s it was like, so what if I don’t go a best time every time I swim? I am trying to get points for my team and that has definitely become a bigger picture for me.

“And also the other freshmen, we were going into Big Tens and our main focus was can we go best times. It took a little bit of time to figure that is not where the biggest focus should be, it should be on how well can I perform for my team. Can I slip into that A-Final? Let me just get a second swim for the team to get them a few extra points.”

Phoebe Bacon will be racing in her same Big Tens event this week at NCAAs – the 200 IM, and the 100 and 200 back, where she will be a national championship favorite in the latter two, and eager to show her improvements in the 200 back at the end of the week.

“If you asked my club coach, he would always say I was scared for the 200 back…because I was. But he would also say I was more of a 200 backstroker and after this whole year of swimming under Yuri, all the pace work we do and hammering the underwaters, focusing on the turns, and the detail work that goes into helping a 200 backstroke be fast, I’m really excited to see what happens with my 200 backstroke. After Big Tens going 1:50 not rested, I’m pretty excited.”

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