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Unseen challenges: the intangible aspects of a relay

BY TORK MASON | JANUARY 24, 2012 7:20 AM

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Relay races are arguably among the most exciting events at swimming meets for fans who crave drama.

But what's the relay experience like for the athletes competing? Do they share in the excitement, or must they remain focused on the task at hand?

Can there be a right answer to that question?

The answer lies somewhere in the middle for members of the Iowa women's 400-freestyle team, which has won five of its eight races this season and placed second in all three losses.

"It's really important to stay focused," senior captain Daniela Cubelic said. "I always like to watch the swimmers in the water, just because it gets me really excited. But you always want to focus on your own race; you want to save your oxygen and not be yelling before your race."

But Emily Hovren said there can be a little room for yelling, although the sophomore admitted swimmers have to be careful about how much they shout.

"It's really challenging not to get up there and scream your heart out, getting [your teammates] going," she said. "Some screaming, yelling, and cheering them on is good. But then you have to buckle down and get ready. It just comes down to experience when knowing where to draw that line."

Senior captain Danielle Carty said another important aspect for a successful relay team is trust.

"When the person in front of you is coming into the wall, you have to trust that they aren't going to take an extra stroke and that what we do in practices and duals is what we're going to do in championship season," she said. "It just comes down to being confident in who's on your team."

Hovren echoed that, saying she has to realize her teammates are going to do their part, and she has to focus on doing hers.

That trust is something all team members must have, she said, and they have to keep it in mind when they're in the water with their team counting on them.

"It's not just you out there," Hovren said.

"No matter who you're racing, you have to make sure you're giving your all-out effort," Cubelic said. "You may be beating the person next to you by two body lengths, but you may have two other people behind you, and you don't know how they stack up against their [competition]. Each team is put together differently; the other teams may have their fastest people go first, last, or in the middle."

Freshman Heather Arseth, who swims the anchor leg for both the 400-freestyle and 200-medley relays, said the team's camaraderie is critical for any relay and its chances for success.

"I think the most important part is the spirit of the team," she said. "I know when I'm on a relay with some of the older girls like Daniela [Cubelic] and Danielle [Carty], we're always cheering for each other, pumping each other up. When I'm going last, I'm saying things like, 'Come on, get me out there so I can take us home.' "

The team says it takes pride in what it does, and Carty — who first swam for both the 200- and 400-medley relays as a freshman in 2008-09 — said being selected for a relay is one of the highest praises a swimmer can receive from the coach.

"Being chosen as one of four people to represent the team is a serious accomplishment," she said.


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