By Andre Barbins, head coach of the St. Mary's College of Maryland men's and women's swim teams
From the moment I stepped on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University in the fall of 1988, I have been involved with NCAA Division III swimming as an athlete, graduate assistant and head coach to this date. I have had so many great memories and events that have shaped my life all thanks to the institution of Division III athletics. Following are three short examples of each of my different experiences over the past twenty-plus years.
As a sophomore at Ohio Wesleyan, I was a member of the 400 freestyle relay which competed at the 1990 NCAC swimming championships. I swam the second leg of the relay in a personal-best split and helped in having the relay finish in third place behind national powers, Kenyon College and Denison University. I distinctly remember the joy and sense of accomplishment as the anchor leg hit the wall, having set a school record, achieved all conference accolades, and succeeded with three of my best friends. As is the case with athletics, the sense of pride was quickly dampened as we realized we had missed an NCAA "A" cut by only four tenths of a second. The relay was comprised of two sophomores and two freshmen and OWU relays went on to qualify several relays in the next seasons but this was the first taste of such team success. That tremendous sense of competition and achievement has stayed with me all of these years.
In my first year as the graduate assistant coach at Washington College, I was fortunate enough to train one of the top swimmers in school history and accompany first-year swimmer Angel Prado to the NCAA Division III Men's Swimming Championship meet in the spring of 1996. Angel had just come off a record-setting freshman year and Centennial Conference championship meet in which he had never experienced defeat or many setbacks. As we walked onto the pool deck at host Emory University, I vividly remember the look of awe and amazement in Angel's eyes. Having grown up in Spain, NCAA championships were not a childhood goal and all his first collegiate swimming experiences were easy. Pulling on my own experiences, I was able to calm Angel down and have him embrace the opportunity to get to race at such a high level against the best competition. With a bit of a twist, that tremendous sense of competition and achievement was again present.
My last recollection to share occurred in the spring of 2009 during the NCAA Championships at the University of Minnesota. As the head coach at St. Mary's College of Maryland, we had two athletes, senior Brie McDowell and junior Rachel Hotchko, qualify for the meet. Both athletes had qualified in previous seasons and I felt comfortable on the top stage our sport has to offer. Again as is the case with athletics, new seasons bring new experiences and championships cannot be scripted. Brie went into the meet seeded first in the 200 backstroke and was coming off an historic performance at the 2009 CAC Championship meet. Brie emerged off the final 175-yard wall with the slimmest of leads and the last twenty-five yards are etched in my memory. As Brie touched the wall in a lifetime best time, it was not quick enough for the title; however, not at any time was there a sense of disappointment, only that now very familiar sense of competition and achievement. I was honored to present the 200 backstroke finalists awards and was able to share in that great moment with my student-athlete and cap off a great career.
Over the past twenty-plus years, I have had the pleasure and the great responsibility of working with hundreds of highly motivated student-athletes. I understand the talent level and speed is even higher at the Division I level; however, I would stack up the competitive spirit and drive I have witnessed with anyone at any level. I want to sincerely thank all those I have had the honor of both competing with and coaching over the past two decades during the course of my adult life in Division III athletics.
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