Sebastian and Emoto raise the bar as The Occidental’s Athletes of the Week

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Marisa Emoto (first year), this week’s Athlete of the Week, is a member of the women’s swim & dive team at Occidental College in Los Angeles.Zeke Sebastian (junior), this week’s Athlete of the Week, is a member of the men’s swim & dive team at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. Nancy Zhou/The Occidental

Zeke Sebastian

Zeke Sebastian (junior) set the school record in the 200-yard freestyle at 1:40.79 at SCIAC Championships Feb. 20–March 1. He also finished fifth in the 50-yard freestyle, setting a new personal record. Sebastian placed fifth as part of the 800-yard freestyle relay team with Miles Koupal(sophomore), Zander Granath (senior) and Noah Nagel (sophomore) at 6:59.76.

Sebastian said breaking the 200-yard freestyle record has been his goal since his first year at Occidental.

“This is a record that coming in, like the first day, I said, ‘That’s the record that I want, that is the one I’m going for,’” Sebastian said. “So it was awesome to be able to do it this year.”

Sebastian said one of his motivations throughout the season is friendly competition with other teammates.

“I think I’m one of the people that people are gunning for like, ‘That’s the one I want to beat, he’s the one I’m gonna beat in practice,’ which is always fun,” Sebastian said. “All these guys are gonna kick my butt, so I’ve got to watch out and I’ve got to keep going.”

Teammate Brenna Knapp (sophomore) said Sebastian always does his best to support the team.

“He’s a very vocal presence on the team,” Knapp said. “He’s pretty loud and he does a good job of motivating people in practice and leading team cheers.”

Sebastian said the season was self-focused for him because mental health issues prevented him from getting into a competitive mindset last year.

“Being able to find that space where you’re ready to compete again was really difficult for me,” Sebastian said. “Thanks to the help of people at Emmons and support systems on campus, off campus, within the swim team and outside of the swim team, I was able to get back in that mind space.”

Sebastian said breaking the 200-yard freestyle record was especially fulfilling because of the time he had spent focusing on self-improvement, in and out of the pool.

“Being able to see that time and see all of that hard work pay off and look up and be like, ‘There we go, there’s my proof’ — I just went nuts in the pool,” Sebastian said.

Marisa Emoto

Marisa Emoto (first year) set a program record in the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 53.00 seconds at SCIAC Championships. Emoto was also a member of the 400-yard freestyle relay team, which set the school record at 3:33.26, and the 800-yard freestyle relay team, which placed fourth in the conference at 7:50.99.

As a first year, Emoto said she wanted to show her capabilities at her first SCIAC Championships by breaking Occidental’s 100-yard freestyle record.

“I wouldn’t say I was aggressive about it, but I was like, ‘Okay, I have this desire to get the school record,’” Emoto said. “I wanted to prove myself, in a way.”

Emoto said her success at SCIACs came after a tough season battling a dislocated joint in her hip, which left her unable to swim full practices for over two months. According to teammate Claire Jang (sophomore), Emoto’s injuries did not hold her back at SCIACs.

“She was the most injured person this season, but she definitely pulled up to SCIACs and showed what she’s got, which was a record,” Jang said.

The support of her teammates helped her through her injury, Emoto said.

“When teammates feel down whether it be mental or physical, we are always there for one another and do the best we can to uplift each other’s spirits,” Emoto said via email.

Head swim and dive coach Haley Mitchell said concerns about Emoto’s injuries almost prevented her from swimming at SCIACs.

“It was brave of her to swim at the meet at all,” Mitchell said. “The fact that she ended up swimming all of her events, broke a school record, scored in everything she swam and was on four of our relays is wild — really impressive.”

Though she said she tried not to care too much about breaking the team record for the 100-yard freestyle, Emoto was determined to show she could.

“In truth, I wanted to break the record really badly, even if it was going to hurt my entire body,” Emoto said via email. “It felt empowering since I realized how much gas I had left in the tank, despite the pain from my injury as well as the fatigue from racing all weekend.”

Emoto said she performed much better than she had expected throughout the weekend-long championship meet and was motivated by her record time.

“It was a huge mix of emotions,” Emoto said. “It was a rush in my body, and I just felt like I was on a roll.”

*Miles Koupal is a photographer for The Occidental