June 9, 2008
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Ten Wildcats will travel to Omaha, Neb., at the end of this month for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials. The meet will determine who will represent the U.S. at the Olympic Games in Beijing this August.
An athlete must place first or second in a race in order to make the Olympic Team. Swimmers who finish in third through sixth places in the 100 or 200 free also will make the Olympic Team as relay swimmers.
Seniors Andrea Hupman (Lawrenceville, Ga./Brookwood) and Kyle Bubolz (Waukesha, Wis./Waukesha North) will enter the meet as Northwestern's highest seeds. Hupman is seeded 12th in the 100 free, and Bubolz is 8th in the 100 fly, but despite both swimmers' history of national prominence, it will not be easy for either of them to qualify for the Olympic Team unchallenged.
"This meet is even faster than the Olympics," said women's assistant coach Nichole Ellis. "It is such brutal competition. Only the strongest, the most prepared and the most talented will wear the red, white and blue in Beijing."
The Wildcats wasted no time returning to optimum training after the conclusion of the collegiate season in March. The Olympic Trials are one month earlier than a normal end of season meet. Most of the Trials qualifiers did not take any time off after the NCAA Championships in order to return to a high level of training quickly and ensure a proper rest period prior to the Trials.
Sophomore Kassia Shishkoff (Raleigh, N.C./St. David's School) admits the training this spring is unlike any other regimen the team has ever followed. "Training has been much more intense than previous spring sessions," she said.
Sophomore Genny Szymanski (Haines, Alaska/Haines) agreed: "I think we're training harder than we do during the college season. We are swimming long course [meters] five times per week, which is so much different and harder than what we are accustomed to. Plus, there are no dual meets to break up the training."
The coaches found ways to increase morale and excitement during the arduous spring months. Men's head coach Bob Groseth
encouraged his team to play Four Square or Marco Polo before practice. "At this stage most swimmers have found a way into their optimal zone. It's best not to confuse them," he said.
Women's head coach Jimmy Tierney and Ellis introduced their team to visualization exercises. The coaches also tried to remind the athletes that the Trials are no different than any other national level competition, an idea that Shishkoff used to stay relaxed and confident throughout the spring.
"A pool's a pool. It's the same length everywhere. That's how I'm going to look at it," Shishkoff said.
In order to acclimate themselves with the arena, Hupman, Shishkoff and freshman Ellen Grigg (Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Latin) traveled with seven members of the men's team to Omaha June 5-8 for the Mutual of Omaha Swimvitational. The three `Cats swam at the Qwest Center pool, which is the same pool that they will swim in at the end of the month. Tierney said the meet gave the team an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the facility, security process and town. Essentially, it served as practice for the Trials and a qualifying meet for swimmers trying to make the Trials in one or multiple events.
Grigg achieved her second Olympic Trials standard of the spring season and the third of her career in the 800-meter free. Her time of 8:47.10 took fourth place and beat the Trials qualifying time by over three seconds. Hupman was the runner-up behind Poland's Agata Korc in the finals of the 100 free, and her time of 25.78 in the 50-meter free was a career-best effort. Although she qualified for the Trials prior to the Swimvitational, Hupman's time at the meet in the 100 free still was more than one second under the Trials qualifying standard.
The `Cats' stellar performances at the Swimvitational did not make the coaches over confident.
"[The girls'] times didn't give any special indication of success at Trials, but the competition was very strong and provided a test for the Trials. Now we have some idea of what to work on and how much rest might be needed before Trials," Tierney said. "[Andrea] is definitely ready to rest. Her swims this weekend were encouraging and something we are very excited about."
Ellis noted that the swimmers' training will remain intense for the next few weeks before tapering off to give the swimmers a recovery period before the Trials. "The next few weeks are going to be critical and the intensity is going to have to be there," Ellis said.
The continuation of intense training leading up to the Trials does not intimidate the team. The anticipation and excitement for the meet distracts the swimmers and keeps them focused on the upcoming competition. All of the swimmers representing Northwestern at the Trials agree their personal goals do not relate to their ranking at the end of the race but to their time instead.
"I just want to go my goal times," said freshman Alex Tyler (Birmingham, Mich./Birmingham Groves). Tyler will swim the 200 and 400 IM at the Trials. Juniors John Franklin (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./North Broward Prep) and Eric Nilsson (Weston, Mass./Weston) will join him at the Trials to complete the men's team contingent.
Sophomore Rachel Rys (Goleta, Calif./Dos Pueblos) and freshman Liza Engstrom (Reno, Nev./Robert McQueen) also will swim at the Trials. Like Tyler, Engstrom hopes to swim a career best time in her race: the 100 back.
"Any placement goals are just unrealistic for me, but maybe Andrea, Ellen and Kassia can final. Maybe Andrea will make it further than the Trials. We'll see. It should be exciting," Engstrom said.
No matter what the result at Trials, all of the swimmers will return to training at the completion of the meet. Most of the team will swim at the U.S. Open in Minnesota at the end of the summer and compete for spots on the 2009 World University Games Team. For now, however, the focus remains on the Olympic Trials.
"It's time to compete hard, enjoy and learn from the experience, and have a Wildcat impact on the U.S. Trials," Tierney said.
This story contributed by Northwestern senior Katie Braun.