Less than one week before the MIAC Championships, the St. Thomas swim teams face the calm before the storm.
Both the men’s and women’s teams are already one week into a two-week “taper” that will prepare them to hit the pool Feb. 18-20 for the conference championships at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.
Tapering is the gradual reduction in yards the team swims at practice, and junior Matt Moore said the reduction is a welcome relief at this stage of the season.
“We practice for three months at full capacity as hard as we can, and our bodies need time to rejuvenate,” Moore said. “So when we taper, basically all we’re doing is resting our body but staying in good enough shape that when we go to the swim meet, we’re going to be fast and at our best possible place bodily.”
During this two-week process, swimmers try to exert themselves as little as possible both inside and outside the water, which also means a strict ban on staircases.
“It’s kind of a pain in the butt, especially when you’re running a little late at 8 in the morning,” freshman Sam Rauchwarter said. “For me it gets a little annoying because I like taking the stairs, but that’s a part of taper too. You save up your energy so you kind of get wired for a couple of weeks, and then you let it all out in three days.”
A shave above the rest
Although tapering does have physical benefits for the swimmers, Moore said during this time of the season mental preparation is just as important as physical. While meditating and keeping MIAC times posted to their walls may be enough for most athletes, swimmers have been known to take the mental game a hair-length further.
“A lot of it is mental but it is a part of the experience,” junior Becca Ney said. “It’s interesting that we all bond over hairy legs.”
Swimmers fully shave before hitting the conference pool. For the women, this means not shaving a full month beforehand,which is something they and the men in their lives, sometimes have a hard time living with.
“It’s pretty hard. The boys don’t like it very much,” senior Ali Krieger said. “It’s kind of weird. Your sheets and clothes feel really weird on you and stuff, but it’s fun. It’s another thing that kind of brings us together.”
And the men on the team are not left out in this process.
“I shave my body, arms and all,” Rauchwarter said. “It’s kind of cool to get a legitimate excuse you could say for shaving for once. You shave and then you put on lotion and stuff, and it feels super smooth, and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is why girls do this all of the time.'”
Whether the experience is enjoyable or not, Moore said it’s less about the physical drag in the pool and more about the mental feeling in the water.
“The reason for shaving is when you shave, you take off the first layer of skin as well as the hair, and so when you jump into the water, into a cold pool, you get kind of tingly,” Moore said. “It gives you a mental stimulus, your body is excited, you’re ready to go.”
Aiming for the top spot
St. Thomas took third at last year’s MIAC Championships, and even though the women are expecting to do the same, the men are looking to grab first place. St. Thomas men’s swimming has not claimed the championship in more than 50 years. For 31 of those years, coach Tom Hodgson has led the team. He said the physical work the swimmers have done in the pool this year will be waiting for them at conference. All they have to do now is trust that it will be there.
“If you start worrying about how you’re going to do and start fretting about that, the nerves will take you and run you right out of the pool,” Hodgson said.
But with a championship-sized crowd in the stands, keeping those nerves in check will be difficult, especially for first-time conference swimmers.
“I’m definitely nervous,” Rauchwarter said. “I know from hearing from everyone, the energy level at the pool is just ridiculous. It is just out of this world, I guess.”
As time until conference gradually dwindles down, the energy level in the pool is building up: energy the team hopes can bring a MIAC title.
“Scale of 1 to 10, I’m a 12,” Moore said. “It’s one of those times of the year where you just can’t help but be excited.”
Ashley Bolkcom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.