Former walk-on now captain on swim team in senior season 


Sean Hastings, Staff Reporter

 At one point in her high school career Katie VanHootegem did not even want to swim at the collegiate level.

Leading up to her junior year of high school, VanHootegem said she was really good and continued to get fast times. When that year hit, her times started to drop.

“I couldn’t get faster. I tried everything and it didn’t work,” she said. “Senior year I didn’t get faster.”

Sometime during her senior season, she thought she might as well give it a try, because there would be a new coach, new training, new everything.

She did see her times fall at some points in her Eastern career, but this year she has improved due to the help of first-year head coach Jacqueline Michalski.

One of the major things Michalski sees in VanHootegem is her leadership.

“She is a lead-by-example type of person. She comes in an works until she’s dead,” Michalski said. “She is also a very positive person. Her positive energy really is a quality that shines through and really helps.”

Michalski also mentioned VanHootegem makes sure everyone has that positive attitude and comes to practice with a smile on their face. She cheers everyone on and creates a great atmosphere in the pool.

VanHootegem is an elementary education major and said she decided to come to Eastern, because it was a great school for teachers. Having a swim program that would fit her times was a bonus for her.

She also considered attending Illinois State University and South Dakota State University.

VanHootegem started swimming when she was seven years old. Her dad was there by her side every step of the way and was a huge help.

“My dad was a swim coach before I was even born,” she said. “So I kind of came out swimming from the womb.”

VanHootegem would always follow her dad around to the meets and was always there to watch. She has been in it ever since.

She added her name to the record books during her freshman year. She holds the tenth fastest time in the women’s 100 breaststroke while competing at the end-of-season Summit League meet.

When she was a sophomore she competed in eight different individual events and set new season-best times in the 100 and 200-meter women’s breaststroke as well as the 200-meter individual medley at the end-of-season Summit League championship.

She was also one of three Panthers to earn Academic All-Summit League Team honors.

Last year she saw action as a junior in a pair of freestyle and breaststroke events. She also competed in the 200 individual medley and set a season best time in the medley.

She also swam in the 1000 free-relay at the IUPUI relay event as the second leg.

Now in her senior season, she continues to swim in the individual medley.

VanHootegem says swimming in the individual medley is indeed her biggest focus in her practices.

“I’m one of those swimmers that’s very uptight, especially in my shoulders,” she said. “You use up so much energy if you’re tight. So the biggest thing for me is to relax.”

There is another focus that she has in meets. She still focuses on relaxing, but makes sure she gets the race mentality.

“I need to get that drive and to get up and go from the get go,” he said.

Her favorite and strongest race to compete in is the breaststroke.

Over the recent winter break, the teams competed in an intersquad mock meet and she swam in the butterfly, which Michalski described as “amazing.”

She swam a lifetime best in the women’s 100 butterfly.

Also over the break, VanHootegem went home and trained more with her dad because he has access to a pool so it was very easy for her to do that.

VanHootegem’s favorite memory of swimming goes back to her senior year conference meet.

At that time, her dad was her swim coach.

At the conference meet, the winner’s coach gets to pass out the medals.

VanHootegem won both of her individual events and then her two relay events so she got all four medals handed to her from her dad.

“It was very special,” she said.

This is VanHootegem’s final season at Eastern, which only has six weeks left. She says that her main goal for the rest of the season is to just have fun and live every day to its fullest and embrace it all.

“I want to make the best of each and every moment,” she said.

VanHootegem and the rest of the Panthers will be swimming at the Western Illinois Double Dual Friday and Saturday.

Sean Hastings can be reached at [email protected] or 581-2812.