A large freshman class has been folded into the mix, and the team welcomed back five juniors who were studying abroad during the fall semester and didn’t join the team until just before the holidays in time for the team’s annual training trip to Florida.
“Now that the team’s completely back together, I can tell that everything’s starting to look better for us,” Gates said.
The Colonels’ first meet since their Christmas training trip was last weekend as they finished a close second to Asbury in their Colonel Classic at Boles Natatorium. Centre and Asbury were separated by just six points after scoring a combined 1,336 points.
It is normal some Centre swimmers to spend a semester studying abroad, like much of the rest of the student body. But the junior women who were gone during the fall semester included some of the team’s best athletes.
Laura Walton, a junior who studied in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, said they returned to find a much different team than the one they left because the freshman class has made such a significant contribution.
“The freshman bring a whole new dynamic, it’s like a breath of fresh air, and to come back into that atmosphere makes all of us gung-ho,” Walton said. “It seems like I’ve known these people forever, and it’s really just been a month.”
Freshman Clark Weber said it’s good to have the missing juniors back as well.
“We’ve always been really close since we spend so much time together ... but having the juniors back was really nice because it gives us more energy,” Weber said.
While the juniors were out, the short-handed Centre women won three of four dual meets on their fall schedule, losing only to Division I Evansville.
“We had a pretty good fall season, but we didn’t do as well as we had planned,” Gates said. “Once (the juniors) came back, we all went to Florida and had a really great training session down there.”
Gates said the newcomers have become valuable contributors.
“They have acclimated very well. They have matured leaps and bounds since that first day. They’ve had to, they haven’t had a choice, but they’re doing awesome,” she said.
There are even more freshman men than women, and Walton said they have been helping both teams.
“I think the coaches were expecting this freshman class to come in and do a lot of work,” she said. “The boys are really improving, and they’re helping our team dynamic.”
“It’s really nice to have such a big class. It gives us a lot of diversity in all the things we can swim,” Weber said.
Weber said she was drawn to Centre’s team because it gives her the chance to swim competitively now and work toward the life she’ll have after swimming.
“I love to swim, but obviously after four years (in college) I’m not going to really do anything with it, so I knew I’d get an amazing education here and I knew I could do both things at the same time and get really positive experiences out of both,” she said.
At the other end of the roster is Gates, one of only four seniors remaining from a freshman class of 17.
“I love it. I don’t necessarily love going to practice every day, I just love competition and being able to not only better myself, but hopefully make an impact on the team,” she said.
Gates and Weber are currently part of a powerful 800-yard freestyle relay team that they hope can qualify for a berth in the national championships later this year. They are currently swimming with junior Colleen Maggard, who made nationals last year in the 200 freestyle and 200 backstroke, and sophomore Sandra Gregor, giving Centre a strong foursome in one of swimming’s most grueling events.
“We’ve got some really good girls on it. We think we’ve got a shot at nationals,” Weber said. “But it’s a hell of a relay. It’s so long. It’s hard because you can’t just straight-out sprint it, and you can’t pace it like a 1,000. When you actually hit everything, though, you’re basically flying the whole 200.”
They hope to be in that position in time for the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference championships next month, when the entire team hopes to be at its best.
“I think we’re on par with what coach was expecting (so far),” Walton said.