Freshmen standouts pace women's swimming
Smith, Simon, Jones embrace Busch, excel in first year
When a heralded recruiting class comes together, it is customary for many of the top recruits to meet and perhaps share a dinner the summer before they arrive on a campus. But the three headline recruits for the Virginia 2013 women’s swimming and diving class — freshmen Leah Smith, Laura Simon and Kaitlyn Jones — shared a particularly memorable experience during the summer when they traveled together to Germany to watch the FINA Swimming World Cup.
The trio all met on a recruiting trip last September, Smith said. She and Jones were the first to commit, and they then talked with Simon to convince her to do so as well. Once all three had promised to join the Virginia ranks, they were off to Berlin.
This bonding experience was the start of something special for the Virginia swimming program. Along with the other members of what is widely considered a top-five recruiting class, Smith, Simon and Jones have taken the pool by storm.
Smith, the No. 6 rated recruit by collegeswimming.com, has already set the school record in the 500 and 1,000 yard freestyle races just halfway through her first year. The German-born Simon, meanwhile, already holds the school record in the 100 and 200 yard breaststroke. Finally, Jones, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2013, has flourished in the individual medley, backstroke and freestyle disciplines.
“That’s what talent gets you,” coach Augie Busch said. “It was absolutely a top-five recruiting class — just those three alone are a [top-]five class. That just speaks to their talent.”
The class was in danger of never coming to fruition. After the sudden departure of former coach Mark Bernardino, who recruited them, the current freshmen recruits could have scampered to other schools. However, they were impressed enough by Busch to honor their commitment to Virginia.
“There was definitely some uncertainty because I had never met him before,” Smith said. “I was just a little scared because it was a different coach, but I think everything worked out perfectly. I probably would have been interested in Augie if he were coaching somewhere else. I think it worked out great.”
Busch is very grateful that he and his assistants were able to inherit a class not only full of talent but also fun, lighthearted personalities.“We are very fortunate,” Busch said. “They are all awesome people too. This goes for the entire freshman women’s class. None of them are really stuck on themselves. None of them are really arrogant or brash. They just want a fun experience [and] good teammates. They are really enjoyable to work with.”
Along with the rest of the team, the freshmen women must now transition back into racing mode as they prepare for this weekend’s meet at Virginia Tech, their first action since November. To do so, Busch took the team to train at Florida Atlantic University for a week during the winter break. They completed strenuous workouts twice per day in the open, outdoor air. Busch said he not only feels the trip will pay dividends in shaving critical seconds off times down the stretch, but that the team’s psyche was strengthened as well.
“When it’s cold and you’re constrained indoors, it’s refreshing psychologically [to swim outside],” Busch said. “There was nothing to do or worry about besides training. I think just going on a 15-hour bus ride is a bonding experience. It was a great week of training. We came out of it a lot better.”
From here forward, both the men’s and women’s teams will race every weekend against conference rivals until the NCAA Championships begin in March. Though some coaches might be intimidated by the daunting task at hand for the swimmers, Busch is embracing the challenge and focusing on the winter months that matter most.
“I have never experienced this much racing in this little time,” Busch said. “It’s maybe one more meet than I would feel ideal, but I think it’s going to be fun to navigate it. It’s going to be fun to strategize with how we rest some people here and there.”
This weekend, the No. 7 Virginia women will face Miami, Wisconsin and Virginia Tech, while the No. 18 Virginia men will compete against No. 24 Harvard, Wisconsin and Virginia Tech, all in Christiansburg, Va. Although both the men’s and women’s Virginia squads are always seeking a win, they say facing their in-state rival Virginia Tech provides an extra spark of motivation.
“We’ll definitely be hoping to win,” Smith said. “I think we have a pretty good chance. Anytime there’s a rivalry we try to step up. I’m hoping to showcase some of the hard work we put in in Florida this past week so I’m excited for it.”