4:41 p.m. – Click here and then start reading.
Back at the blog one last time. Coach Carlson and I arrived at the IUPUI Natatorium about five minutes ago. There’s a sense of calm at the pool tonight – the type of which I haven’t felt since arriving here on Tuesday. I realized that everything I have have been doing all week I will be doing for the last time tonight. The team held its last pre-session meeting. It was the last time I rode to the pool with coach Carlson. I am sitting in the media room writing in this blog for the last time. All good things eventually come to an end and this has been a great experience.
Tonight’s team meeting with the six female swimmers had a different feel as well. The athletes were locked in and focused, and the coaches were compelling and inspirational. It all comes down to tonight, but I didn’t get the sense that there was pressure on any them. The pressure, I’ve figured out during this meet, comes from the individual athletes themselves. Alissa Tinklenberg gets nervous because she puts pressure on herself. Intrinsic motivation, pride, and love for each other make these ladies so good.
I’m going to break up tonight’s meeting notes by coach – something I should have been doing from the start but because I’m an idiot I only thought of it now.
Carlson: Coach Carlson was pleased with this morning’s performances and once again told the girls how proud he was of them. You swam like champions and had the right strategy. Go out, do your job, swim your race, and we’ll see how the standings come out. Carlson said that there is still work to do and to not get nostalgic just yet. Gustie swimmers don’t strive for sentimental victories. “Swim like you’ll swim forever,” he concluded.
Lindstrom: Coach Lindstrom told the team to have fun, enjoy every second, and to thank their parents when its all over. Take advantage of the moment and rely on your instinct. There’s no coaching left to do; now its up to you to make it happen.
Weyandt: Tonight is a celebration, Luke told the team. It’s a celebration of your accomplishments, Gustavus swimming and diving, and the effort it took to make it to this point.
Coach Carlson told me before this week that the biggest factor in how a team finishes isn’t how fast they swim here. How fast they swim at nationals is a byproduct of their effort in practice. Their effort in practice is a byproduct of their attitude. The teams that attack the month of practice between conference and the NCAA Championships with a positive attitude are the teams who succeed. This team had the attitude Carlson was talking about and it has shown this week. With just six women (5 Minnesotans and 1 Wisconsinan), Gustavus has an opportunity to finish higher than any other team in program history.
Tonight we will watch Katie Olson swim the 100 free, Alissa Tinklenberg swim the 200 backstroke, Jenny Strom swim in the 200 breastroke, and Olson, Tink, Dani Klunk, and Tarin Anding bring this whole thing to a close in the 400-free relay.
I will be reporting back to the blog on what is happening periodically during the meet. I have a lot of things I could say about this team, but I’m going to save that for later. This is already turning into an emotional night for this SID. Good luck Gusties!
5:54 p.m. - The National Anthem is in the books and we are about to get underway there at the final session of the 2014 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. The stands are beginning to fill up and this place is getting loud. The nickname for the IUPUI Natatorium is the “House of Champions.” Coach Carlson told his swimmers in the huddle to swim like champions. “Swim with your heart,” he said.
6:14 p.m. - The 1,650 freestyle is a long grueling race – the longest race the NCAA offers. Alissa Tinklenberg told me a little bit ago that this is the worst race ever. It’s tough to watch but I respect the heck out of the swimmers who choose to compete in it.
In my opinion, this is not the ideal way to start the final session of the NCAA Championships. Gustavus’s athletes have 30 minutes before their races begin. Staying relaxed, and maintaining composure becomes key.
The coaches are trying to keep the athletes loose by joking with them from time to time. Laura Drake has turned into the team’s No. 1 cheerleader and is bouncing around the deck talking to all her friends. The Gustavus students, teammates of these girls, have made it to the pool and are periodically chatting with the swimmers.
Alex and Luke maintain a steady level of excitement, while Jon paces around the deck nervously. He will occasionally pull out his phone to play a game, send a text, or look up a score. I think he does this for relaxation and take his mind off things for a bit.
6:41 p.m. - The freestyle distance races are finally over and it’s time for the Gusties to amp it up. The physical demeanor of the girls has changed and they are now in race mode. I will be heading to the blocks shortly to get video of every swim. Best of luck to Gustavus tonight!
7:00 p.m. - We’re off to a good start. Katie Olson swam a smart, fast race and placed second in her heat and 10th overall – earning All-America Honorable Mention honors. Luke said that Katie’s turns were crisp and her finish was strong. It was Olson’s third 100 free of the day counting her prelim swim and her leg of the 800-free relay. It’s tough to go that fast on the third one, Luke said, but that’s what she did.
Tinklenberg is up next in the 200 backstroke. I will be getting video of her swim and then will report back. This is the biggest crowd of the weekend and it’s once again an intense scene on the deck.
7:48 p.m. - I’m back in the media room after watching a pair of pretty amazing swims. With a fourth place finish in the 200 backstroke, senior Alissa Tinklenberg earns her second individual All-America honor of the meet. Her finish was also the second-best by a Gustavus individual (female) at the NCAA Championships in the history of the program. Coach Carlson said Tinklenberg put her heart into that swim and was proud of how she competed. The song Happiness by Pharrell was played during the 200 backstroke introductions and it couldn’t have been a more perfect for the senior from Willmar, Minnesota. Tink was all smiles before the race and she was all smiles after. This was the most comfortable she has looked on the deck prior to a competition all week. Congrats on a job well done Alissa!
Jenny Strom was next up and was completely opposite of the smiling Tinklenberg before her race. For Whom The Bell Tolls would have been my choice of an entrance song going by the presence Strom walked out with in the 200 breaststroke consolation final. Just like last night, Jenny came up with a big swim in a big spot. The junior once again won her heat to finish ninth overall and take home her second individual All-America Honorable Mention award of the meet. Coach Lindstrom described Jenny’s race as a battle, “She fought for that one,” he said.
We have now hit the diving break. When that is over, the Gusties will look to cap the meet on a high note in the 400-free relay. These six girls are doing something incredible here tonight and everyone close to the team seems to feel it in the air. Once again, momentum is on Gustavus’s side. Below are some pics Alissa on the podium.
9:34 p.m. - Im back in the media room after 400-free relay team just wrapped up the 2014 NCAA Championships with a seventh place finish and another All-America honor. The team was pumped after its finish, and the coaches were all pleased with how the Gusties went out.
I filmed the race from behind the blocks. In fitting fashion, Alissa swam the anchor leg. It had to have been a bittersweet moment for her touching the wall for the last time wearing a three-crowned swim cap. Although this group talked all week about how cold the water in this pool was, I got the feeling that Tink didn’t want to get out.
The next part of this story can be described as something you simply can’t make up. A short time after the Gusties were handed their seventh place trophy on the podium, the fire alarm in the IUPUI Natatorium went off. The PA announcer, Tom Schutt, ignored it as he announced the sixth and then fifth place finishers, but by the time he got to fourth place, NCAA and IUPUI officials were barking in his ear to cut off the announcements and call for the evacuation. Schutt quickly got through the top four and then calmly announced, “I guess we are being told to evacuate the building.” It was easily one of the more comical, yet memorable, moments I’ve had while doing this job.
Coach Carlson and will leave the pool for the last time shortly. Expect a formal recap and a few videos later tonight.
1:21 a.m. - I am back to the blog for the final time. Coach Carlson and I got back to the hotel and I posted a quick hitter about tonight’s performance. The Gusties finished seventh with 154 points – both of which are school records.
We met up with the swimmers, parents, and students who made the trip for a late night meal at Weber Grill. Being able to meet the parents will go down as one of my favorite memories of the trip. These parents, along with the students right beside them, cheered their hearts out all week and energized this group each and every session. Thank you for making the trip and thank you for sending your daughters and son to Gustavus.
I will be chipping away at the videos of tonight’s swims tomorrow so check back in early this week for those. Because of the whole fire alarm fiasco, I wasn’t able to get interviews with any of the girls tonight.
I am going to end this by thanking the swimming and diving program. Thanks to the coaches, Jon, Alex, and Luke for putting up with all the questions and providing me with such great material for this blog. The coaching staff performed just as well as the athletes did this week. Thanks to the swimmers for allowing me enter their world. You are all true representatives of Gustavus and reflect the college’s core values to the greatest extent. Be proud of yourselves and what you have accomplished – it truly is remarkable.
I’m going to begin my conclusion with a quote my mom sent me this weekend after reading these blogs. She knows even less about swimming than I do, but she’s been the quote master for a long as I can remember – a pretty amazing feat when you consider the fact that she’s not digging these quotes up through a Google search like many of us would. The quote comes from coaching legend John Wooden and it is as follows, “We don’t have to be superstars or win championships…all we have to do is learn to rise to every occasion, give our best effort, and make those around us better as we do it.”
This was an unbelievable journey and an incredible learning experience. The Gusties are shining in Indianapolis tonight! And how fitting is it on our final night together that Coach Carlson and I watch the end of Hoosiers. Just five miles to the north of us is the gym that the championship game was filmed. A fitting finale.