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Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2019
Sudbury swimmer commits to becoming Seminole swim sensation
by Randy Pascal

The Florida State Seminoles are right on the cusp of the NCAA Division 1 Women's Swimming rankings, just outside the top twenty in the country as of early January, 2018.

That might be a tad intimidating for any newcomer to the program, let alone an athlete leaving the more northernly reaches of Ontario to travel to the Sunshine State. Yet Nina Kucheran insists this is exactly the setting she needs.

"I've always been a big fish in a little pond, and I'm excited to be a little fish in a big pond," noted the soon-to-be graduate of Collège Notre-Dame. "I think it's going to be really good for me. I'm excited to have people that are as good as me, better than me, to give me that extra push, to become the athlete that I want to be."

It is exactly that kind of drive and single-minded vision that has allowed the local product to garner the attention of top-end schools south of the border. Following plenty of email and telephone correspondence, her final four choices would be narrowed to South Carolina, Iowa, Pittsburgh and Florida State, eventually settling on the Seminoles, site of her first official visit.

"I immediately fell in love with everything about the school," said Kucheran. "The coaches, the communication between the coaches, the team. I needed to feel like I connected with the coach, beyond just swimming, and that's exactly the feeling I had with the coach at FSU, Neal Studd."

Her official signing in late November punctuated an already unbelievable journey for the gifted young swimmer who first took lessons at the Nickel District Pool at the age of five.

"I think I've always had a natural gift for swimming, but I've had to put a lot of work into becoming the athlete that I am today. It's something I've always loved doing. I've always been a little bit taller, which I am sure helps with swimming."

Still, despite the success that would see Kucheran make a name for herself well beyond just her teammates, coaches and parents with the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club, the process which would lead her to become the first local swimmer to receive an NCAA Division I scholarship in several decades was not nearly as well established, in these parts, as the local girls hockey contingent, for instance.

"I really didn't even start looking at my options and narrowing things down until grade 11, which is actually fairly late," explained Kucheran. "I wasn't sure if I wanted to stay in Canada, or go to the U.S. A friend who just started her freshman year at West Virginia (Giselle Gursoy from Pickering) went through the recruiting process the year before me, so she helped me out, explained absolutely everything I had to do."

In the end, when the decision ultimately came down to Florida State and South Carolina, she looked much closer to home for a sounding board that she trusted. "Dean Henze helped me once I got it down to two," said Kucheran. "He's been my coach for seven years, has been through thick and thin with me, knows me really well."

"I made the decision, myself, but he was great to lean on and make sure I was making the right decision." Like most of the Sudbury and area teenagers who are fortunate enough to conduct an official visit on pretty much any NCAA school campus, the "wow" factor hit Kucheran like a ton of bricks.

"For me, it's all about the atmosphere, and I didn't really understand this too much until I did my recruiting trips," she said. "Florida State was my first one. Everything is so big, the atmosphere is crazy. It's welcoming and exciting and everyone is there to work hard and be great."

"The opportunities are awesome. As an athlete, it's where you want to be. The support they give their athletes is amazing. The weight training that they do looks absoluetly fantastic. I'm excited for that extra bit of training, the specialty training. Having that type of atmosphere should be great for me."

Kucheran is not about to hold back one iota when she discusses her ultimate goals. "I'm going to Florida State to become the best swimmer that I can, to qualify for the NCAAs and become an all-American - that's what I want to do," she stressed.

A change of this magnitude does not come without drawbacks. A constant presence at her side, meet after meet, Cookie Kucheran will have to adjust to a separation that she has not previously endured.

"My mom is fantastic," said Nina. "She's dropped everything to always give me all of the opportunities to be the best athlete I can, and I appreciate that so much. She's my biggest supporter. I know that she's going to miss me. I am going to miss her so much too."

And while her parents divorced when she was just eight, Kucheran can count on backing from multiple sources. "My dad is out of town, but he has always supported me, even if he's not there all the time like my mom."

While this latest phase of her swimming career did not represent years of planning, Kucheran is more than comfortable that she is right where she wants to be.

"Throughout high-school, my focus had always been on the national meets, Olympic Trials, things like that," she said. "But I always knew I wanted to be a varsity athlete." A Florida State Seminole varsity athlete, to be specific, now that the dust has settled.

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