Freshman swimmer making strides in the water

Sean Hastings, Staff reporter

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of “Top Cat”, which The Daily Eastern News Sports Staff will be picking an athlete each week who stood out from his or her sport from the previous week.

Amy Smith was the only Eastern women’s swimmer to get a first-place finish on Friday in the Western Illinois Double-Dual this past weekend.

Her performance has earned her “Top Cat” named by the Daily Eastern News Sports Staff.

On Saturday, Smith noticed that her best 100-yard backstroke was better than the pool record. Her goal for that race was to go in and beat it, which she did with a time of 59.52.

Smith got into swimming when she was about seven years old when her mom put her in swim lessons and eventually got bumped up to lap lanes.

“I just fell in love with the water and never wanted to get out,” Smith said.

Once her parents realized that she loved swimming so much, they put her on a club team.

Even though her parents were the ones who got her to start swimming, she said she was the one that wanted to keep going with it.

When she was younger, she was also involved in other sports but soon realized swimming was her number one sport, and it was going to be the sport she would give the most attention to.

Smith looked back on all the help she got from one of her first coaches, who also became her high school coach, Jacob Ayers, at Wheaton Warrenville South High School in Wheaton, Ill.

“He was definitely one of the most influential coaches,” Smith said

She added that Ayers was the one that kept her swimming throughout high school and to not give up on it.

Smith hit a bump in the road during her high school career when she tore a ligament in her foot during her senior year in October playing a dodgeball game for homecoming week.

She had to have surgery twice and was almost out of swimming for nine months.

She also had to be in therapy for 25 weeks and she is still continuing to do so.

“I still have rehab exercises that I do when I can to continue to strengthen my ankle and calf,” Smith said. “Luckily, it only bothers me when I run and never in the water.”

While in high school, Smith used to run track and had a tough time deciding whether to continue with swimming or go off and run track.

For swimming he did show interest in University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point but never applied to either school.

The only school Smith applied to was Eastern Illinois.

“I just fell in love with the campus and the small fit, and I really liked the team and the team atmosphere,” Smith said.

While also deciding schools, Smith met with the Biology department here at Eastern to help make her choice easier as she is now majoring in Clinical Laboratory Science.

Former swim coach Elliot McGill was the one that recruited Smith, but first-year head coach Jacqueline Michalski has helped Smith since they both arrived at Eastern.

“We’ve done a lot of work on her freestyle technique and her backstroke technique,” Michalksi said. “She has always been a hard worker.”

So far this season, Smith has proven to be a hard worker since she came to Eastern as she started to get lifetime bests in her races.

When she practices, Smith says she just tries to have fun and not get in her head so much, but focuses on making good strokes so she can carry that over to meets.

“In meets I just try to clear my head and go out and have fun and not really think about anything, because I tend to get in my head,” Smith said.

Smith’s favorite race to swim in now is the 200-yard backstroke, but she competes in the 100-yard backstroke and sometimes in the freestyle.

Coming into college her favorite race to swim in was the 50-meter freestyle, and she qualified for state her junior year in that race.

“No one really thought that I could make state, I wasn’t even sure if I could make it because it had to be a really big time drop,” she said.

To prepare for meets she goes back to what she would do in track. She will jog in place, or do track skips to warm up.

“Everyone thinks I look really weird,” she joked.

Another thing that is different from other swimmers is that Smith hates being wet before she dives into the pool.

“I have to be completely dry and wipe off my cap, and wipe off my goggles and make sure everything is dry,” she said.

Unlike most non-swimmers, Smith really likes the shock from the cold water when she gets in. She says that it gets her going.

Smith and the rest of the Panthers will be taking on Valparaiso this Saturday in Valparaiso, Ind.

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