By Chardonnai Johnson, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Chlorine? Check. Pool? Check. Buckets, paddles, swim gear, and dozens of goggled swimmers diving and surfacing simultaneously? Double check.
This was sight at the McCoy Natatorium during the days leading up to the Big Ten Swim Meet. The men's meet, scheduled to begin Feb. 22.
"The thing with
swimming is," said men's and women's swimming coach John Hargis. "You're going
to be hard pressed to find another sport that puts in the hours that swimmers
have to put in."
Both pools in the natatorium are filled with swimmers in different lanes whose heads are consistently appear and disappear while Hargis is talking. The whole room is filled with the sound of splashes and whistles. This is an everyday practice scene according to Hargis.
The swimmers put in about 20 hours a week during a typical season for training and practice. A lot of the athletes put in extra time weight lifting and training at their own accord though.
"Some of the goals these kids have take place in the summer," said Hargis. "So the dedication they have is pretty impressive."
Hargis said that because swimming is a year-round sport, the team never really stops practicing. Save for the Big Ten though. Most would expect the practice to be amped up and more intense around that time. This isn't the case.
Practice is routine and structured any other day. It's only leading up to a big meet when things surprisingly die down a little.
"Right now it's just rest and sharpening really," said Hargis. "They've put in months and months of training. Now it's time to let their bodies recover and sharpen up."
The conference meet itself is four days said Hargis and it's pretty intense for the swimmers. There are seven sessions in the conference including two relays the first night. The next day will call for three individual events as well as the 400 medley relay.
"Some of these kids will be competing a lot in just three days," said Hargis. "They'll be swimming a lot."
As if to emphasize this point, one of the swimmers in the pool closest to Hargis dumps a bright orange bucket of water into the pool making a loud splash. The other swimmers, alternating between male and female, reach the end of their laps and surface.
There are red paddles attached to their hands used during practice to add resistance to their strokes. Hargis wasn't kidding when he said it's all about the details and sharpening before the Big Ten meet. He has high hopes for the team at this meet and he doesn't want to exhaust them.
"We want to just get the most qualifiers we can get to the NCAAs," said Hargis. "Honestly, we want to go there and just win the meet."
The time leading up to the conference doesn't seem to fly by as quickly as the actual conference does. Hargis said the meet happens pretty quickly and then it's over.
"The Big Ten Meet is probably one of the fastest meets in the country," said Hargis. "It'll be a good meet though. A fun meet."
After stopping to instruct the swimmers to "go 50 easy and check their buckets," Hargis said that the meet is not only exhausting for the athletes, but also for him.
"It's a fun meet, but it's very intense," he said with a laugh. "I don't sleep. But it's fun to be a part of."
Preparing a team for any big competition no matter what the sport is always a tough job, but Hargis said that coaching for him isn't just about the sport itself. He teaches them to be better athletes, but he also said coaches should be a teacher and a role model for their athletes.
"We try to shape the swimmer all four years and in all aspects," said Hargis. "Make them better people and better students. We look at the entire person, not just the swimmer."
With past experiences with meets and swimmers, Hargis said that he's expecting a little nervous energy from his athletes during the Big Ten Championships. It's normal and perfectly natural.
"It's a matter of not letting the nervous energy turn into negative energy," said Hargis. "I don't want them to doubt themselves. I'm thinking positive."
Something about the determined strokes of every athlete at this practice just a week ago tells me there will be nothing to worry about come Wednesday.