The final stretch: a Q&A with Occidental’s women’s swim captains

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Hannah Ash (senior) a member of the women's swim team at Occidental College. Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. Nanuka Jorjadze/The Occidental

Swim captains Hannah Ash, Laura Chun and Joan Kronick open up about spending the last four years together in the pool.

 

This interview was conducted prior to the women’s team third place finish at the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Championship meet. 

Reporter Shai Goodman (senior) sat down with the senior captains of the women’s swim team Hannah Ash, Laura Chun and Joan Kronick to talk about life in and out of the pool. They recounted four years of early morning workouts, swim traditions and individual growth.

Shai Goodman: So, walk me through this last week. What is the preparation like for your last SCIACs?

Laura Chun: Typically, about a week to two weeks out of SCIACs, we start lessening how much we swim and how much we lift. We start resting more. That’s normally called taper. So now that we’re six days out, we’re really tapered down, and so we’re just working on making sure that we feel rested. This period is focused on fine-tuning race strategy.

Joan Kronick: We’ve put in the work; at this point, it’s just about polishing. Getting mentally prepared is half the battle. If we’re getting excited, all the little ducks fall in a row, if that makes sense. We’re focusing on the little details, like what we do specifically, rather than just the whole team. We’re talking to our coach about relays and like hotel rooms and really little details — the logistics.

Hannah Ash: There are a lot of people on the team, around 50. So, our top priority is checking in with each individual and making sure they’re in the right mindset going into it.

Goodman: Are there things that you guys do to get mentally prepared?

KronickWe have goal meetings and positivity talks where we compliment each other. It’s all to try to keep like a really happy, positive atmosphere.

Ash: We go around the circle and everyone says their individual goals. We try to keep them in mind throughout the meet, so if someone hits their goal, we can all be super excited for them.

Goodman: Is the atmosphere of a meet super celebratory?

Ash: I think it varies. At the beginning of the meet, it’s definitely more tense. But then at the end, it’s just kind of cathartic. Everyone in the pool cheers as soon as the last relay touches the wall. Literally every swimmer in the pool. It’s amazing. The locker room is a party.

Chun: We have a meeting where we tell the team to not let anything that happens the week before SCIACs psych them out for how well they’re going to swim at SCIACs. Taper is one of those weird animals where sometimes you’re feeling so great, you feel fast and strong, and then the next day you’ll feel terrible and you have no idea why. You’re just like, am I not gonna swim fast? Is this the reason that I’m not gonna break my best time? So, we have a lot of reassuring talks beforehand just to prepare everyone for what taper will do and how variable it is. Letting people know to not overthink those moments.

Kronick: Trust the process.

Chun: That’s what we say all the time. Trust the process. Trust the taper. Trust that we will get you there.

Kronick: You kind of have to believe that everything you’ve done is for a reason and it’s going to pay off. It’s a very scary gamble because swimming is almost arbitrary, everything comes down to a fraction of a second. You just have to be confident. Trusting the process is a big deal. In taper you’re trying to like foster the confidence to swim fast, not just physically but mentally. That’s that’s my catchall.

Students during practice at Taylor pool at Occidental College. Friday, Feb. 14, 2019. Nanuka Jorjadze/The Occidental

Goodman: You’re all seniors. Is the senioritis hitting really hard, or is it almost easier to focus on school instead of just focusing on that fraction of a second?

Chun: I think as the year has gone on, I’ve actually gotten more relaxed going into SCIACs. I think my freshman year I was the most nervous, and then every year after that it’s gotten easier. I know what it’s like to be in the pool with an intense environment. I know what it’s like to go through a four-day meet. It is weird to think this is my last one. It’s going to mean a lot to me, but I think senior year has kind of aged me into realizing swimming is such a small part of who I am. I’m going to enjoy this moment, but there are bigger and better things to look forward to.

Goodman: Do you think about that first season often?

Kronick: Like, every day. Oh my gosh, we were so different.

Chun: We talk about it so much.

Kronick: The team culture has changed a lot. We didn’t take it as seriously. It was bad. The night before SCIACs, Laura and I stayed up writing a paper for, like, History 102 and ordered a pizza and ate the whole thing.

Chun: We had been, like, ‘Okay, you need to be healthy. You gotta get eight hours of sleep’. And then we were just in the bottom of the library eating a full-on pizza. At 12 a.m.

Kronick: Also, we’ve all gotten faster, which is something that doesn’t really happen a whole lot, and it’s a reason why our class is exceptional. Retention is terrible in DIII sports — especially by the time you’re a senior, people don’t often care. But for us, that’s just the absolute opposite. Part of it is because of our new coaching staff, part of it is just because of the people we are.

Goodman: Laura, I saw your Instagram that you said, “I’ve changed so much over four years.” Do you mind just like elaborating a little bit?

Chun: Yeah, sure. My freshman year, I was really into going to music festivals. That was just who I was. All I would do is go to raves, go to music festivals, come home, do homework sometimes, go to swim, whatever. That was part of why I feel like people didn’t like me when I was a freshman. I was a lot less serious about it. But I think I’ve become progressively more serious about swimming and I think it was because, honestly, my senior year of high school, I was burnt out. I didn’t want to swim anymore. But being around our class has made me re-love swimming again, which is kind of cheesy.

Goodman: Do you all listen to music when you swim?

Kronick: There’s music on deck, which has been a point of contention this year because we have a lot of conflicting music choices. Some people only want to listen to Migos and some people want to listen to, like, Kygo.

Chun: Yeah, that’s me.

Ash: “[Take Me Home,] Country Roads” is the song that the entire men’s team has just taken up. When we had our senior meet and we played it and the entire team just started singing on deck. Chapman was already there warming up and they were just staring at us belting, just thinking, “This team is so weird.”

Goodman: Over the past four years, do you think you have one defining moment?

Kronick: You know, it has been a long process, but I do think we’ve left it better than we have found it.

Ash: I think that’s true. I think the environment is definitely a lot better, and we’re definitely more cognizant of other people, which wasn’t really the case when we came in. I guess personally, it’s been getting over the injuries, because I’ve had numerous. But I think a huge thing is just our team environment has really changed.

Kronick: If I had to pinpoint one thing, I’d say Steve [Webb] [head coach of men’s and women’s swimming and diving] came and he’s a very hands-off. He doesn’t treat us like children, he wants us to grow up. He gave us the opportunity to be more hands-on and because of that, we got to mold something because it was there for us to mold.

Chun: He definitely purposefully made that happen. He likes to step back and let people step up.

Goodman: What advice would you give your first-year selves?

Chun: Less double dinners.

Kronick: I feel like I really wasted my first two years. I really did. So I would just be like, “Hey, put good things in and get good things out.”

Goodman: So this is your last meet, potentially. I’m sure you have a lot of individual goals, but is there anything you three want out of this last round of SCIACs?

Kronick: All I can really ask is to get my best times in the final meet. I just want to improve. That’s my goal. Just because someone else is faster, doesn’t mean you’re slow.

Chun: I have more team-oriented goals. I want to be on the podium with my team at least three times. I want our relays to podium at least three times. Last year was really heartbreaking to get fourth in the two [200-yard] medley.

Ash: We’re going to have some amazing swims — especially from the first years. I’m so excited to see them taper. They are always the ones that surprise you.