Weekly Feature



2012-03-29 / Sports

Otto swims at women’s NCAA National Championships

West grad sets Harvard school record in 400 IM, earns four All-Ivy League selections
by JASON NADOLINSKI
Reporter


West Seneca native Courtney Otto, a member of Harvard’s women’s swim team, capped off a record-breaking freshman season by competing in the annual NCAA Championship Meet, held March 15-17 at Auburn University. Only the top 30 swimmers among all NCAA Division I programs per event, by time, qualify for the Championship Meet. 
Photo courtesy Gil Talbot via the Harvard University Athletics Department West Seneca native Courtney Otto, a member of Harvard’s women’s swim team, capped off a record-breaking freshman season by competing in the annual NCAA Championship Meet, held March 15-17 at Auburn University. Only the top 30 swimmers among all NCAA Division I programs per event, by time, qualify for the Championship Meet. Photo courtesy Gil Talbot via the Harvard University Athletics Department Courtney Otto thought she knew what it was like to swim in big time national events, thanks to her past club-level experiences that helped garner the interest of Harvard University.

That was before she and a teammate became the first Crimson swimmers to represent Harvard at the NCAA Division I National Championships for the first time in two years, though.

Otto, a West Seneca West graduate, had a strong enough freshman season to be among the 30 total qualifiers in both the 400 IM and the 200 butterfly for Nationals, which was held March 15-17 at Auburn University. Coming off a solid performance that helped Harvard win its 10th Ivy League Championship on February 25, Otto was primed to swim for an individual national championship.

In the end, Otto made what she called “freshman mistakes” because she “was so mentally drained” by all that went into the Ivy League Championships — including keeping up with the demanding academic load at Harvard — that she wasn’t able to perform as well as she had hoped she would going into the meet.

But, knowing that it takes an elite effort to just qualify for Nationals, Otto is encouraged by the fact that she did so as a freshman and is eager to put her experiences to use over the next three years of her career.

“I’ve always loved swimming, and the emotions I had during Ivys were something I’ve never experienced before,” Otto said. “I’ve been to national-level events before with my club team during high school, so I thought the NCAAs would be somewhat similar. But, it was a completely different atmosphere; it was very intense and definitely different than what I expected it to be. It was my goal to qualify for Nationals from the beginning of the year, and I knew with all the adjustments that would come with starting college that it would be a lofty goal. So, to be able to hit that goal had me pretty pumped up.”

“It’s difficult to qualify for the NCAA Championships regardless of what year the swimmer is, but Courtney has an unbelievable ability to race,” said Harvard women’s swimming coach Stephanie Morawski, a former team captain and two-time All-American selection for the Crimson. “When we were recruiting her, that was the one aspect she had that really caught my eye. There are many talented swimmers out there and a lot of hard workers as well, but when you add in the swimmer’s love of racing, it can make all the difference. Courtney is very competitive with herself, and she hates to lose, which is what put her in position to qualify for NCAAs as a freshman.”

Otto went into NCAAs — where she placed 30th in the 400 IM, in 4:14.58, and 24th in the 200 butterfly, in 1:57.47 — with confidence after faring as well as she did at the Ivy League Championships. Otto finished the Ivy Championships with a team-high four All-Ivy League selections, thanks to her win in the 400 IM (school record 4:10.22), her spot on the winning 800 freestyle relay, and her second-place times in both the 200 butterfly (1:58.74) and the 500 free (4:45.68).

“Courtney is naturally talented and has enjoyed success rather easily, but this was the first year that she was up against talented swimmers more consistently,” Morawski said. “It really opened her eyes to what she wants to do and what she needs to do to get there. Having swum here myself, I can certainly be a resource for her, but the bottom line is that she can be great while at Harvard if she really puts her mind to it.”

Otto’s freshman year has certainly laid quite the foundation for the remainder of her collegiate career. Not only did she record multiple successes at varying levels throughout the course of the season, but her experiences have also given her — and Morawski — a clearer vision of what strategies need to be put in place for Otto to have the best chance at maximizing her potential.

“We always have meetings and are constantly resetting goals with our swimmers, and I think that we’re probably going to turn Courtney’s focus to the little things that can be done on a daily basis that all add up over the course of a season,” Morawski said. “Getting in the pool and racing is fun, but consistent dry-land training, stretching and proper nutrition are just as essential to success as working on starts, turns and technique. They can be the difference between being an All-American or sitting on the side watching.”

“We sat down at the beginning of the year and wrote down a list of times that I wanted to go in certain events,” Otto said. “Knowing those goals and then realizing them was pretty cool, and being up on the (record) board with some great names is even cooler. I’m just hoping that everything I accomplished this year sets me up pretty well for the next three years. I didn’t swim as well as I would’ve liked to at NCAAs, but it was a great experience. Now I’m hoping that if I can make it back, I won’t be quite as nervous.”

For now, Otto will continue to place an emphasis mainly on the dry-land portion of her training regimen so that when her sophomore season rolls around, she’ll be in even greater physical shape as she works at adding her name to other parts of Harvard’s record board. She’ll also continue to devote countless hours to her course load.

“Being at Harvard is not easy, but it’s very rewarding,” Morawski said. “I forget sometimes the difference between Harvard — and other strong academic schools — and the other ‘swim’ schools where swimmers are only permitted to take three classes a semester, or can’t take classes between 2 and 6 p.m. There are many teams where swimming is the priority, but that’s different than what we offer. Courtney is an extremely talented and versatile swimmer; we knew she would not only add depth to our program, but she would also be among the top swimmers in the Ivy League during her time here. Not only is she going to swim extremely well here over the next few years, she will also graduate with a Harvard degree.”

Otto won’t stay completely out of the pool between now and next season, though; in between her classroom and training demands, Otto will also find some time to work on her strokes in preparation for the Olympic Trials, which begin June 25 in Omaha, Neb. Otto qualified for the Trials, in the 400 IM and 200 butterfly, based on her times at the 2010 Irish Long Course Championships on April 29, 2010, as a member of the STAR Swimming program.

“I think NCAAs definitely prepared me for what I’m going to face at the Olympic Trials,” Otto said. “Being at NCAAs and having to watch the finals, to not be able to swim was hard for me — but it lit a fire under me. I want to swim well in prelims so that I can be in the finals, regardless of the meet. We’ve picked apart my races at NCAAs, so I’m hoping to fix those little things we found so I can be in finals more often, and hopefully at the Trials.”

email: jnadolinski@beenews.com

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