The Emotional Rush of Winning a Conference Championship

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Photo Courtesy: John Reid/Atlantic 10

By: Ashley Illenye, Swimming World Magazine Intern

At the beginning of every swim season, college swimmers aim to accomplish their goals at their conference championship. These can be technique related, going a personal best, improving your worst stroke or being a good teammate. However, swimming like other sports boils down to one thing at the end of the year: winning. Aside from the select schools that have participants in NCAA’s, conference championships are the highest and most intense level college athletes will participate in. The culminations of the year’s work lay in a four day meet. The ultimate goal: to win.

Winning can be done on several different levels at conference championships. The first is winning an event individually, the second is on a relay, and the third is as a team. Different conferences distribute different participation awards on a plaque, but there is no medal or team trophy. There are no two wins that look alike, each is unique to their own person, including myself.

At the 2017 Colonial Athletic Association Championships in Blacksburg, Virginia I won my first collegiate event title in the 1650 freestyle, an event I decided to swim that week after battling a shoulder injury all season. I went into conference telling myself that no matter the outcome, I was there to support my teammates in their successes.

The first day, I swam the 500 free and achieved results which I was content with considering I missed two months to injury. By the end of the race, I felt the nerves kick in, feeling weak the entire time. Could I finish three times that? Day two brought the 400 IM, and despite a less than comfortable first half I secured myself a first-place spot going into finals. Second place was my bittersweet accomplishment that night. Happy, but not satisfied, I entered my last day hungry.

I had confidence going into the mile, but not enough to second guess myself while approaching the blocks. With every stroke after the 500 my shoulder cried out in pain. The last 400, I could feel the months of no training, the adrenaline of being in first barely being enough to finish the race. The last five yards I put my head down, looked up and gasped, being in so much pain I thought I might throw up. But I got the ultimate goal. I won.

My win was emotional and left me questioning how I had been able to pull that swim off. For every day I didn’t swim, I ran. I biked. I worked my hardest to stay in aerobic shape and after a lot of fighting with myself, I finally let myself feel like I deserved the win. My win was only an individual one. There are so many different championship stories featuring each person’s unique battle to victory.

Everyone’s version of their win; individual, relay or team is different to each person.

Kaitlyn Jones

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Jones is a senior who graduated this year from the University of Virginia. At the 2017 ACC Championships, she got first in the 200 fly, totaling 3 individual wins and 3 team wins throughout her four years.

Q: Describe your first event win

A: My first event win was at my first ACC’s in 2014 in the 800 free relay. Our team was striving to win our 7th ACC Championship, and earlier that session our 200 medley relay won. Before the race, my teammates were screaming “Wahoo Relays” on the side of the pool and I remember feeling more excited than nervous. Being a part of that relay as a freshman helped show me the camaraderie within the conference and made me even more excited for the races and years to come.

Q: Does it maximize your pride winning an individual title and a conference title?

Absolutely. Winning an individual title gives me all the pride in the world, but the best part of winning an individual race is knowing that I scored the maximum number of points I could for the team. Winning a conference title means a lot to our team. It’s a goal we set for ourselves at the beginning of the season and to come together and achieve that is very fulfilling.

Q: What’s the difference to you between winning as an individual and as a team?

A: There is no difference to me because winning an individual race just helps the team to win as a whole.  Every time my teammates and I get up on the racing blocks we want to do everything we can for the team, whether that means winning or beating just one person in the heat.

Q: Which win would you want to re-live?

A: I think the wins that are the most special and memorable are the ones that we have to work the hardest for. I would like to relive my 3rd year ACC’s at UVA, where we went into the last day of the meet with a significant deficit and came back to win our 9th title.

Haylee Committee

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Photo Courtesy: UMBC Athletics

Committee recently finished her freshman year at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Not only was she a member of two and that won the American East Conference meet, UMBC won as a team for the third time in a row.

Q: Which relay that you competed in was a more satisfying win? Why?

A: I would say that the 200 medley relay was the most satisfying win for me. We knew from the very beginning of the meet to keep up the positivity and to leave everything in the pool. By staying humble yet with such confidence resulted in our victory, a new school record and meet record. It was a great way to kick off the meet and I couldn’t have done it without 30 of my best friends (the girls team) on the side supporting me and the relay.
Q: Would you say that the relay win or the overall team win more rewarding?

A: Winning the relays was most definitely exciting and rewarding, although I think our team winning over all is far more rewarding. We all worked far beyond our comfort zone to get this far and we all deserved it.
Q: How would you describe winning conferences after your first year in college swimming?

A: After winning the AEC title my freshman year, it solidified my belief of how strong we are as a team that I am honored to be a part of. Going forth, having the men’s team join the America East Conference, I think we can become even stronger than before because we are better together. We can all work towards the same goal and I cannot be more pumped to see what this team has to offer in my next three years as a retriever.

Q: After winning this year, what do you and your team want to accomplish to get another title?

A: I think with my team specifically is that we aren’t primarily focused on winning at conference at the end of the season. Our team motto this past year was “Embrace the Process” and we didn’t take it lightly. We focused on each and every practice, race, meet, workout individually and made every one count. As a result, we received our third conference championship title.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.