Mustang Daily Staff Report
When the start beep sounded, she stopped thinking. When Rachel O’Brien finished her race, she was a school record holder — potentially heading to the NCAA championships.
The senior swimmer found her stroke in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championship meet on Feb. 23, and broke the Cal Poly record in the 200-yard butterfly with a time of 1 minute, 57.27 seconds and scored her team 20 points.
In addition to her record-setting performance, O’Brien took the 100-yard butterfly the night before and both of her times have put her in a group of swimmers who may qualify for the NCAA championships.
But until other conferences’ championships are done, O’Brien is playing a waiting game. She won’t find out whether she qualified until later this week. While her teammates are falling into offseason practice hours, she’s in the pool with the men’s team, preparing for the possibility of racing one more time this year.
“It’s kind of weird,” she said. “I’m in the pool with the boys, but they’re doing their thing. It’s weird being the only one in the locker room.”
Despite solitude in the pool this week, though, O’Brien said she feels the love from her teammates, and that their support probably played a big role in her success this past weekend.
“It’s so exciting to be there with them,” she said. “They’re here cheering for me; we’re all here cheering for each other.”
Cal Poly finished fifth at the meet, with 374.5 points. UC Davis took the meet with 673.5 points, but O’Brien urged the team score doesn’t very clearly reflect the performances of individuals.
“It might not have been where everyone wanted to be, but that’s only going to drive them to do better next season,” she said.
But for O’Brien, there isn’t a next season. The senior will graduate this June and could potentially be done with her swimming career. While she’s in limbo now waiting to hear from the NCAA, she said she will be proud to end her career like this, regardless of whether or not she has another meet ahead of her.
“I’m just kind of acting like I got it,” she said. “But if I didn’t, I’m happy to end my career like this.”
The end of the season is bittersweet for junior Rachel Cleak, who finished fourth in the 100-yard butterfly race. She said she and her fellow teammates will have big shoes to fill next season, and she’s sad to see the seniors go.
“(O’Brien) is my teammate, but she’s also my mentor,” she said. “And we’re losing a lot of breastrokers and distance swimmers, too.”
As far as the offseason goes, there isn’t much of one. Cleak and the rest of the team will continue training for summer season, though offseason hours are more flexible. Summer season for swimming runs in long course meters, can qualify for the Olympic trials and various international events at summer meets. After summer season, they take a two-week break and then prepare for the NCAA season.
“We have a lot of athletes who can really step up this year,” Cleak said. “And I think we have a group that can really rise to the occasion.”
Hannah Croft contributed to this staff report.