Freshman transitions to college swimming with event win
- Freshman Michael Lagieski was one of two Washington University men’s swimmers to win an event last weekend against Saint Louis University.
Only two men’s swimmers won events in Washington University’s first meet of the season, a duel against local Division I rival Saint Louis University. One was expected: junior Luke Dobben, an All-American last winter and the owner of two school records. The other was a new name on the Red and Green swimming scene: freshman Michael Lagieski, who was the only racer to break one minute in the 100-yard breaststroke.
A freshman from Menasha, Wis., Lagieski was a sought-after recruit for a number of Division I schools—a list headed by Stanford University—but like many a Wash. U. athlete, he chose Division III athletics because academics was a priority.
“I don’t think that I’ll be using being a swimmer as a career after I graduate from college, so I wanted to go to a place where I knew I could balance athletics with the academics, and I placed a greater importance on academics,” he said.
Lagieski “had a good deal of options, but a lot of our student-athletes do have a lot of other schools,” head coach Brad Shively said. “We talked about obviously the quality of the school—is the very first place we start—and then, you know, the quality of the program, the quality of the athletes in the program and the level of competition that we face during the course of the year.”
Wash. U. freshmen have traditionally experienced immediate success in the pool; in the last decade, 40 percent of the University Athletic Association rookies of the year have come from the Danforth Campus. Lagieski aims to be the next in line, and winning a race in his first collegiate meet showed a glimpse of his potential.
His time of 59.81 seconds in the 100 breaststroke would have been the third-fastest time on last year’s team, and Shively said he was impressed with Lagieski’s performance given that the team has yet to begin its intense training regimen or discuss race strategy.
“At a meet like this, we really haven’t had any opportunity to work on a great deal of fundamentals,” Shively said. “We’ve kind of introduced a good number of things…We haven’t had a chance to do a great deal of individual work with everybody.”
Although he was thrown up against a team of SLU’s caliber in his first collegiate meet, Lagieski wasn’t fazed racing against Division I athletes, having traveled to high-profile, national meets in high school. At the National Club Swimming Association Junior National Swimming Championships in Orlando, Fla., last March, Lagieski placed 19th out of more than 160 competitors in the 50-meter breaststroke.
More noteworthy to the casual observer is the list of swimmers alongside Lagieski at the USA Swimming Arena Grand Prix in Minneapolis a year ago. “There’s big-name athletes there like Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin,” Lagieski said of the event. “They’re racing and competing with us in those races, so that’s pretty cool because you get to compete with Olympians.”
Though Lagieski acknowledges he will not pursue a career in the pool like Lochte or Franklin, he still plans to work on his craft to lower his times—the top two individual goals he listed were to win a race at the UAA Championships and be named UAA Rookie of the Year.
Dobben, the last Bear to win the award, can speak from experience about excelling as a first-year college swimmer. “Coming into the setting of college routine and getting a new training regimen can be extremely beneficial,” he said about the freshman learning curve. “I know that for me, starting to lift more consistently and having some competition in practice was very helpful.”
“Some are really technicians,” Shively said of the team’s incoming freshmen. “I would say [Lagieski] is one of those guys. He’s somebody that focuses on the details, and I think it’s nice when you have somebody that walks in that understands the stroke as well as he does. He wants feedback, and he really wants to go and learn what he’s doing.”
One aspect of collegiate racing to which Lagieski knows he must adjust is the condensed schedule. His club meets in high school were three-day-long affairs with spread-out events whereas college meets often last only a day or two.
“When you might have a day or two between events” in club competitions, Lagieski explained, in college meets, “you have 10-20 minutes that you have to get in the cooldown pool. It’s not so much physical; it’s more being able to mentally come back from a race and prepare yourself for the next.”
The sole drawn-out meets that Wash. U. will attend this season are the most important on the schedule: the UAA Championships in February and the NCAA Championships in March. And if the past decade is any indication, the new freshman class will be essential to helping the Bears place well.
“Due largely to the freshmen, I think that we’re going to have a great season,” Dobben said. “I think that they are all great additions to the team. They have a lot of talent, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they can do.”