‘Unbelievable’ Rookie ISL Season has Sherridon Dressel Refocused for 2021

Cali Condors' Sherridon Dressel; Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

The colors may have been different, but the feeling for Sherridon Dressel was similar.

Budapest’s Duna Arena is a far cry from Gainesville, Florida. But during the International Swimming League season last month, Dressel appreciated the similarities. The way the Cali Condors bonded, the ability to train and live together in the bubble, the fast and furious schedule that hearkened to the college dual-meet season – it didn’t feel that different from competing at the University of Florida. Even if the Condors’ shade of blue was a touch too light and the hand motion was completely different, Dressel felt a familiar intensity.

Fresh out of college, the 10-time All-American didn’t know exactly what to expect from her first foray into professional swimming, particularly given 2020’s disruptions. Like many of her Cali teammates, she left the bubble not just a champion but blown away by the experience.

“I had so much fun doing it,” Dressel told Swimming World this week. “The Cali Condors was like nothing I’ve ever been part of. It really reminded me of my Florida family, just how cohesive everyone was, how well everyone got along, and I think that really showed up in the races. At the meets, our team had such a genuine energy that really showed up in how we swam.”

Dressel was an integral part of the Condors’ championships drive. The women’s half of the team was particularly impressive, led by standouts like Lilly King, Olivia Smoliga, Hali Flickinger and Beata Nelson. Dressel was a vital depth piece, one of several versatile swimmers that coach Jonty Skinner could shift in the lineup, a trait more precious once Melanie Margalis left midseason.

Sherridon Dressel (photo: Mike Lewis)

Sherridon Dressel; Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS/ISL

Dressel entered the bubble not sure what to expect. The ISL rookie completed her career at Florida in the spring, denied a final NCAAs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She earned seven All-American honors as a senior, qualifying for NCAAs in the 100 butterfly and 100 and 200 backstroke.

What the second ISL season would look like – with expansion teams, legions of new swimmers and precious little racing this year – was anyone’s guess. So Dressel carried no expectations except to enjoy the chance. She left it with an “unbelievable” experience and her focus sharpened for the year ahead.

“I think it was a good mental refresher to get your mind back on track,” she said. “With COVID and not being really able to train, to go from that to six weeks of being able to train with world-class athletes, I was definitely grateful for that and it helped get my mind back on track of where I want to go with swimming, what I want from the sport and how I want to train. I wanted to make sure I was on top of every training, because going into that team, I knew I wasn’t the fastest so I wanted to step up as much as I could in training and in races.”

Though not one of the Condors’ top scorers, Dressel had her moments. In the final, for instance, she picked up points in fifth place in the 50 and 100 back, both won by Smoliga. The eight points may seem a small return. But fifth is the class of the B swimmers, and every point she took was one another team couldn’t use to eat into Cali’s lead. Psychologically, it piled on to what Smoliga reaped, further demoralizing opponents.

Dressel fed off of and into to the Condors’ raucous on-deck team box, “The Nest.” The constant reminder that the team was counting on her helped drive Dressel.

“You would look over to the stands and everyone would be going wild,” she said. “I think that’s a huge part of racing and being part of a cohesive team like that, is having that kind of genuine energy and getting behind each other. I think it helps especially with the back-to-back races. It’s easy to kind of get in your head and be like, man that’s tough, I feel it, my body’s tired. But you look over to your teammates and every single person is doing the same thing. You’ve just got to get up and do your best and you’ve got to do that for your team because you’ve got 32 other athletes counting on you.”

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Cali Condors’ Sherridon Dressel and Caeleb Dressel during ISL practice; Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu/ISL

No one brought the energy in the pool quite like Caeleb Dressel, downing three world records in the Condors’ final two meets, including some historic barriers broken.

For Sherridon Dressel, watching Caeleb swim is less about witnessing the assault on history as it is the payoff of the work she sees every day, training with the Condors and in Gainesville.

“I’m always going to be proud of Caeleb no matter what,” she said. “Obviously world records are a big deal, but I’m going to love him no matter what. As my big brother and my teammate, a world record isn’t going to change how I look at him or how anybody looks at him. I won’t say it was a surprise because Caeleb tends to do that quite often. But it was just really cool. I’ve always loved being on the same team as Caeleb, being able to train with him, because he is such a hard worker and it shows up in his races. You can just tell he’s having fun and enjoying the moment.”

The next time Sherridon Dressel encounters many of her Condors teammates will be on a very different stage: At Olympic Trials. She’s taken plenty from their shared training time in the bubble, getting to dip in on training habits of groups based at Georgia or Tennessee and collect little bits of wisdom.

But the every-person-for-themselves stakes of Trials means that a trip to Tokyo could come down to Dressel and a fellow Condor. In her first Trials trip, that shared ISL bond is an asset, built-in support and the kind of understanding that is only forged at elite levels of competition like ISL.

“We’re all going to be there watching each other swim and hoping for the best,” she said. “Once you dive into that water, no one is really your friend because at the end of the day, you want to beat whoever’s next to you, whoever’s against you. But we’re still going to support each other, show good sportsmanship and because we were such a close team. I feel like we bonded as a team as a whole, not just the women’s team but the men’s team, which is something really special, because that’s hard to find, a group of 32 efforts to get along as well as we did, I feel really blessed at that.”

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