Lauren Preyss ¨C Women¡¯s Swimming
by Bob Volkert
Penn State junior freestyle swimmer Lauren Preyss grew up as a normal teenager. She played soccer and softball, and she swam. She fought with her two brothers and two sisters. And she dreamed of going someplace far away from home for college ¨C someplace warm.
Preyss was talented enough to get the latter opportunity via a scholarship to swim at the University of Arizona. She shunned northern schools, including Penn State, figuring there was no way that she could be happy attending one. She was set on going to a school in California or Arizona, ultimately choosing between the Wildcats and the University of California.
Preyss¡¯ club coach is Jerry Holtrey, the long-time head coach of the nationally renowned Lake Erie Silver Dolphins, and is also the coach of U.S. Olympian Dianna Munz.
Penn State head coach Bill Dorenkott grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and actually swam for Holtrey over 20 years ago as a member of the Lake Erie All Star Zone Team. Dorenkott¡¯s wife, Adrianne, was a standout age-group swimmer for Holtrey over 25 years ago on the Lake Erie Silver Dolphins club team, and Bill Dorenkott also has a cousin, Sarah Dorenkott, who currently swims for Holtrey, and is a member of the U.S. Junior National Team.
¡°Jerry told me back in 2001 that Lauren could be a 146-plus 200 freestyler,¡± Bill Dorenkott said. ¡°She is certainly on track to prove him right. Lauren has had great coaching throughout her career, whether it was starting out with former Stanford assistant Jason Turcotte as an age-grouper, to Jerry Holtrey, and then a year with Frank Busch in Arizona.¡±
It was under Busch at Arizona, where Preyss learned the valuable lesson that making decisions as a young adult can be difficult. She made her way to Arizona, but she wasn¡¯t happy, mainly because she missed her brothers and sisters, her parents, and the rest of her family.
¡°We tried like heck to recruit Lauren out of high school,¡± Dorenkott said. ¡°But like many high school seniors, she was enamored with warm weather, fancy facilities and getting away from home. Having made a smooth transition into our program, I believe Lauren will tell you that the most valuable criteria in picking a school and program is surrounding yourself with great people who sincerely care about you and your best interests. A place where you can feel comfortable in your own skin.¡±
It was toward the end of her freshman year of college that Preyss first thought of transferring, during spring break of 2004. She talked it over with her parents, and they decided it was the best thing for her. Preyss got her release from Arizona, and the first phone call she made was to Dorenkott.
¡°I have saved most of the e-mails that he wrote me during my senior year of high school,¡± Preyss said. ¡°One of the e-mails he wrote, he just told me good luck and that if things didn¡¯t work out that there was always room for me at Penn State. But I was like ¡®Whatever¡¯ at the time.¡±
Preyss was 100 percent set on going west. She visited schools such as Arizona, Cal and Stanford. She wanted nothing to do with the north. She took a recruiting visit to Indiana University just for the sake of taking a visit to make her parents happy.
Preyss had a hard time during her first semester at Arizona. She felt she wasn¡¯t ready for the college grind, and she made mistakes that every teenager makes. But after she decided to transfer to Penn State, mostly during the summer leading up to last fall, Preyss felt all of the pressure lift off her shoulders. She was looking forward to a fresh start at Penn State.
But she still had one concern. She wasn¡¯t sure how she would be received at Penn State as a transfer. Her 29 new teammates answered that question quickly.
¡°The team is amazing,¡± Preyss said. ¡°I have never been on a team in my entire life like this, and I¡¯ve played soccer, softball and I¡¯ve swam. It¡¯s really kind of hard to explain. The way everyone interacts with each other is awesome. It¡¯s nice to have a team atmosphere in an individual sport like swimming. I was immediately welcomed like I had been here forever.¡±
As a sophomore at Penn State, Preyss excelled. She was a first-time NCAA qualifier, and she set three school records, including a 13-year-old school record in the 200 freestyle. She also set school records in the 400 and 800 freestyle relays on her way to becoming an All-American, and a three-time Honorable Mention All-American.
She loves her teammates, she loves Penn State, and she loves where she is now.
¡°I am a different person now than I was during my freshman year at Arizona because I¡¯m so much happier, and a lot of that has to do with me being comfortable,¡± Preyss said. ¡°It has to do with this being the right fit for me. It feels like home. When I came to Penn State with this swim team, on this campus, I wouldn¡¯t want to be anywhere else. It was such a great fit. A lot of the comfort, and me enjoying myself, was because of the way the girls welcomed me to the team. You wouldn¡¯t have known that I was a transfer by the way they treated me. And that meant a lot to me, probably more than they know.¡±
Of course, it may have helped that many of the girls on the team love peanut butter, and Preyss¡¯ father Jerry makes flavored peanut butter in a tube. It comes in flavors such as cinnamon and caramel. It¡¯s something Preyss, along with her new teammates, have also come to love.
¡°Everyone on the team loves it,¡± she said. ¡°Most of them are huge peanut butter fans. Really, if you give them any they go crazy, especially if it¡¯s free.¡±
All kidding aside, now that Preyss feels that she is where she is supposed to be, she can¡¯t be any happier. But she ran into another awkward situation when she went to the NCAA Championships. She had to face some of her old teammates, and coaches, for the first time since she left Arizona.
She was excited to see her teammates, but she was nervous to see her coaches. Of course, that all turned out fine. At the NCAA Championships, Preyss had success on Penn State¡¯s relay teams, where she garnered three honorable mention All-America honors in three days. She finished 15th in the 200-yard freestyle relay, 15th in the 800 freestyle relay, and 13th in the 400 freestyle relay. She garnered All-America status by helping the Nittany Lion 400 medley relay team finish seventh. Making it even better is the fact that Preyss¡¯ family was able to make the trip to the NCAA Championships. It was something they were able to do all year to provide support.
¡°They really missed that last year because they couldn¡¯t see me swim¡± Preyss said. ¡°I¡¯m one of five kids. My whole family came out to Big Tens, and it was so nice to have them there. It was nice to have my whole family there because they are my number one support group. It¡¯s really nice knowing they are in the stands.¡±
The one thing that Preyss wanted when she graduated high school was to enjoy her college years. She now feels she is doing that. ¡°College is supposed to be the best four years of your life, and I wanted to experience that,¡± she said. ¡°Mentally, I just came in here embracing my future and the opportunity I had to swim or Penn State, and to get the education I am getting from Penn State. Instead of looking to the past, I am looking forward to the future for the first time in a long time.¡± And she made a certain coach extremely happy.
¡°I am very grateful to Lauren and her family for taking a chance on our program,¡± Dorenkott said. ¡°Lauren is like so many of our student-athletes in that she is unselfish, work-ethic driven, and cares deeply about her family, and the Penn State family.¡±