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Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2019
The different atmosphere of OUA swim championships
by Randy Pascal

There is something a little different, extra special, if you will, that distinguishes the OUA Swim Championships from most every other meet these athletes would have encountered over the course of their careers.

It’s a reality that is noted by coaches and athletes alike.

“It’s always exciting for me at OUA’s to see how the rookies do at their first one,” admitted Laurentian Voyageurs swim coach Phil Parker. “They get a taste of it at regionals, but they don’t have the rest and then build up. It’s one of the fastest short course meets in Canada every year.”

“The energy with all of these university kids coming together, it’s just so important for them to experience that.” The 2018 event kicked off today, wrapping up on Saturday on the campus of Western University in London.

Parker will head to the university provincials with a solid mix of vets and newcomers, including six swimmers who have already attained the qualifying standards to compete at nationals two weeks later in Toronto.

“OUA’s is such a different meet,” agreed 20 year old L.U. sophomore Bethany Robinson. “You have no idea until you are actually at the championships. It’s a different level of energy.” A native of Wyoming (Ontario) and product of the Sarnia Rapids Swim Club, the Sociology major (with a minor in Gerontology) is a breaststroke specialist who also qualified for the U Sports meet in her freshman season in Sudbury.

“In year one, you don’t know what to expect,” she said. “This year, I really wanted to focus on technique. I wanted to make my legs stronger, focusing on finishing my kicks so that I get that extra power. In first year, I missed the podium (at OUA championships) by just a little bit. Making it there this year was my goal right after that.”

Joining Robinson in making a return to the Canadian championships will be fellow second year Laurentian swimmer Samuel Boily-Dufour, also a native of southwestern Ontario. In fact, it’s the similarities between Sudbury and home that would ultimately play a big role in the decision of the now 19 year old second year student in Sport and Physical Education (francophone program) to venture his way north.

p>“A big part of the decision, for me, is the fact that it’s in Sudbury,” he suggested. “We are kind of semi secluded. Whenever I feel overwhelmed or need space, the process is easy. Just go for a walk – there’s a regional park right in the back here. The people here are so positive. It’s a big city but it kind of has that small town feeling to it, so it’s easier for me to stay focused.”

“I’m kind of a small-town boy, so Laurentian is great for that. So many little things made it a good fit. It reminds me of Sarnia.” Collège Notre-Dame graduate and Voyageur rookie Natalie Lefebvre is among the group that will absorb all that is the OUA Championship for the very first time this week. A very familiar face in local swim circles, with a training background with both the Valley East Waves and Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club, Lefebvre is already certain of moving on to nationals.

At her first ever set of divisionals, she would establish a new meet record in capturing both the 400m and 800m freestyle races. It’s all part of what she hopes to accomplish in year one at L.U. “My biggest goal this year is just to get recognized,” she said. “I want people to know my name, I want the university to know who I am, I want to stand up and make an impact.”

While this is the target, Lefebvre is grounded enough to always be aware of the big picture at this stage. “University is a higher level than high school, academically, so it’s hard to have that same focus on sports and academics,” she said. “It’s just trying to find that balance. Yes, I have to get into the pool, but I also have to do a lot of homework and essays and all that stuff.”

While adjustments such as these carry some challenges, there are absolutely some changes that Lefebvre and her teammates will welcome, all part and parcel of the package that is Voyageur swimming. “It’s less individual and more about the team,” she stated. “Relays really count a lot. I find that every single meet kind of feels like team champs (for club), it’s that kind of atmosphere.”

Helping to pull it all together is the man who has been in charge of the program for the past 16 years, his influence noted by each and every member of his team. “What I like about Phil is how conscious he is about how you’re doing, physically and mentally,” Robinson explained. “He’s always checking up on the little things, always very encouraging. I think that really helps me.”

“I remember his saying in first year that school always comes first. That was pretty big too, it calms you down a little. There were a lot of mistakes made in first year. It’s hard, you’re so far away from home. Going into second year, I really wanted to focus on studying, making sure I go to the library, get my work done so I wasn’t stressed out in the pool.”

And as for the man in charge, a key injury to Cassandra Drescher (U Sports qualifier as a rookie last year), combined with a few other factors, have forced Parker to alter his expectations. “For this year, it’s more individual,” he said. “We’re going to take a step back from making a huge push towards the top five. We just don’t have the depth to accomplish that.”

“We are going to have some very strong relays, we’re always looking for top five at relays.” After that, it will be a little bit of crossing fingers and hoping the adrenaline of a meet that is unlike any other kicks in and pays off with personal best times.

Rounding out the contingent of Laurentian Voyageur swimmers who have qualified for nationals are Matthew Schouten, Andrew Hrycusko and Riley Konrad, though Parker noted that the trio of Francesca Zammitt-Maempel, Madeline Stever and Kiana Deland are all close enough that they could turn the trick this week at the OUA meet.

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