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Pooled Resources Pay Off
By Anne Downey '95G

To truly appreciate the success of the 2004-05 UNH women's swim team, you need to know that nine members, almost half of the 20-member squad, were freshmen. "It's true that in September, it looked like it might be a re-building year," head coach Josh Willman says nonchalantly.

Team building happens to be one of the aspects of the sport that Willman focuses on the most. "It isn't obvious that learning how to work together is important in swimming, given the individualized nature of the sport," he explains. "Part of the adjustment swimmers need to make in transitioning from high school to college swimming is understanding the kind of power you can get from a team that's behind you."

How's this for power: Undefeated for the season, the women's team placed 11th nationally and was the only team from New England to earn a top-20 ranking. In March, they captured the America East Conference Championship in a dramatic come-from-behind victory by winning their final relay. "It was sweet, putting that banner on our wall," captain Melissa Lague '05 says. "We'd been trying to do that for three years."

Of all the team's success stories this year, Lague's is perhaps the most compelling. The Salem, N.H., native began swimming competitively at age 7, but by her senior year in high school she was burnt out. She didn't go near a pool for two years.

As a freshman at the University of Connecticut, Lague observed the UNH team vicariously through her sister, Jessica Lague '00. Melissa really liked Willman's philosophy. "He encourages you to find your motivation from within," she explains. She transferred to UNH as a sophomore and started swimming again seriously.

The team trains from their first day on campus in September through the end of February. They take two weeks off before they start training for the next season. Every week they spend about 17 hours at practice in the pool and three hours weight training.

This season, Lague spent hours perfecting her backstroke. "When Melissa came here, I told her that I thought she had the potential to break two minutes with her 200-yard backstroke," Willman says. "At first she thought I was crazy, but after she improved in her sophomore and junior years, she began to believe in herself. She has incredible drive. But she also wanted to be coached. The best swimmers have the ability to hear what their coach advises and then make it come out of their bodies."

In December, Lague broke the two-minute mark in her 200-yard backstroke. She also shaved three seconds off her 100-yard backstroke, and six seconds off her 200-yard individual medley. By the season's end, she was undefeated and ranked 36th nationally out of the 3,800 swimmers in her division.

To prepare for next year, the UNH team began training in April. Willman relies on upperclassmen to help freshmen adjust to college life and college swimming. He had three seniors last year; this year, he will have just one: Shannon Daly '06, who holds records in the 200-yard breaststroke and the 500- and 1,000-yard freestyle. You can't blame him if he doesn't seem worried at all.

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