By Elizabeth Klemm
For 22.29 seconds in February, third year swimmer Megan Clark held her breath, hoping to become the first Northeastern swimmer to ever qualify for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships.
Her efforts were good enough to make the cut. For the first time since 2004, Northeastern would have an athlete at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships.
“I definitely wasn’t thinking of it at all in the beginning of the season, and then with just how my swims went at Chance we thought that I was close to going so that’s why we went to the last Chance meet,” Clark said.
At this last Chance meet, Clark’s time in the 50Y Freestyle event dropped 0.11 seconds to 22.29 seconds to make the cut. Her breath control was integral to this drop.
“My 50 race I did that got me into NCAAs, I didn’t breathe,” Clark said.
This was the first time Clark had done this in competition.
“You could go from 50th to 20th with a tenth of a second,” Clark said.
To qualify for the NCAA Championships, Clark had to swim in a series of Chance Meets and make certain cut times. There is an A cut and a B cut, head coach Roy Coates explained. A swimmer who is under the A cut time is guaranteed to qualify for the NCAA championships, but only about half a dozen people in the nation make this time. Due to event qualifying caps around 30, only a couple dozen swimmers within the B cut time range for each event will qualify.
“It comes down to the last day,” Coates said. “It’s a moving target so even though she swam really fast we had to fly out to Ohio [for the last Chance Meet] to see if she could swim a little bit faster because of that moving target.”
Coates and Clark credit additional strength and technique training as well as an improved work ethic to Clark’s monumental success last season. She lifted three days a week as well as utilized buckets for resistance training. Additionally, Clark focused on her starts and breath control.
While these methods helped her improve, Coates believes her improved work ethic from her freshman season propelled her results the most.
“I think the biggest difference last year from freshman year was for whatever the reason, she became one of the hardest, most dedicated, disciplined workers on the team,” Coates said.
Teammate and fellow third-year Sarah Schelsinger agrees.
“Swimming is a tough sport and having someone like Megan Clark makes it easier to get through,” Schelsinger said. “Practices are tough and the sets are tough, but having a friend and a teammate like Megan Clark makes the two and half hours go by real fast.”
Clark says not having her teammates by her side at the NCAA championships, where she competed in the 50Y, 100Y and 200Y Freestyle events, was a strange experience, as was not making finals due to the high caliber of athletes.
“Everyone there, their times are so close and everyone went through the same process to get in and it was very exciting and everyone’s happy to be there and it was really like the destination meet of all destination meets,” Clark said. “There was nowhere really to go so it was just put your best effort into the pool and do your best.”
Clark credits the NCAA Championships and the past season as a whole for giving her more confidence in her racing. She plans to take that confidence into this season.
“I’m more confident in my races and my race strategies and what I’m able to do and I definitely will hold myself more accountable for things that I do,” Clark said. “Especially, when Chance [meets] comes around, I’ll have higher goals than I did last year and higher expectations.”
Those goals include returning to the NCAA Championships and improving on her performances as well as qualifying for the US Olympic Trials.
Despite Olympic competition being held in 50 meters and collegiate meets being held in 25 yards, Coates and Clark believe this is a realistic goal. Her experience in long course meets is limited to training trips and one meet in high school.
“Just from times that I go off the blocks during training trip, I definitely have been close to it considering that it was during practice and I wasn’t tapered and all of those different things,” Clark said.
Her first opportunity to qualify for the US Olympic Trials is Nov. 28 at the US Winter National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. She will be joined there with at least two other Northeastern swimmers, sophomores Klara Juliusson and Matilda Weiler, and the confidence she gained last season.
“Now I know what is possible,” Clark said.
Featured image by Brian Bae.