Harford athletes have certainly made a splash in the Towson State University swimming program.
Six Harford High School grads -- Dana Novotny, Mark Haynes, Aysha Saqib, Andrea Baran, Stacy Barnhill and Shelley Wagner -- are members of the Towson State swimming team this season. All are making significant contributions.
Swimming, though, can take a lot of time and change the regular routine of a collegiate student-athlete's life. But almost all the Harford swimmers say they have gained personally from the sometimes tough routine of practice and competition.
High on the list of benefits swimmers say practice and competition affords them: discipline, stress-reduction, grace-under-pressure skills and the value of friendships.
"The hardest part is getting out of bed and jumping in the water," said Novotny, a senior from C. Milton Wright. "I'm not a morningperson."
Scholarship swimmers, like Novotny, must come to practice on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6 to 7 a.m., in addition to practicing 3-6 p.m. every day. To arise before the winter sun comes up and head straight for the pool is tough.
It takes discipline, saysNovotny, who wakes up at 5:30, jumps in the car and motors to the campus pool. She arrives at 5:50 for practice.
The discipline has helped her tremendously. Her times have improved significantly since her days at C. Milton Wright.
She holds four Towson State records. Coach Ray Riordon said she's the top women's swimmer on the team.
Barnhill, a junior, also says she relies heavily on discipline. She practices with other team divers 4:30 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. It's a lot of repetitive work.
Barnhill said she does two hours worth of dives at practice. Her repertoire includes about 25 different dives, 20 of which she has learned since joining the Tigers.
Riordon said Barnhill, also a C. Milton Wright graduate, holds the school record for six dives on the one-meter board and for 11 dives on the three-meter board. The six-dive record was set at Johns Hopkins last week. Riordon said she is the top Towson State women's diver.
Barnhill said she is much more focused this season, and that is helping her improve.
"I think I'm just more into it," said Barnhill. "I havea much better attitude."
Swimmers also use the discipline they learn from swimming to keep their out-of-pool schedules on track.
Baran said that since swimmers know they must be at the pool at certaintimes, it forces them to do various tasks at the right times. For example, if they know rising early is a part of the schedule, classworkcan't really wait until 3 a.m.
Stress reduction is a benefit Saqib likes about the sport.
On a recent practice day, the clock neared 4 p.m. The team was starting to loosen up for practice and engagingin horseplay by the pool. But Saqib's mind occasionally drifted elsewhere. The freshman, who graduated from Bel Air High School, was worrying about her first finals week, set to begin the next day and looking forward to jumping in the pool to relax her mind and body.
"I think it helps relieve stress and tension," said Saqib. "It kind of helps you clear your head. It gives you more energy."
The swimmer, who had missed swim time due to a shoulder injury, said the water can be almost therapeutic. Both said that swimming, evenif during a workout, often has a soothing effect.
The water also seems to help the swimmers focus, especially if they are nervous.
Baran tells the story of her first collegiate competition. She got upon the board at the Shippensburg Relays and recalls the feeling of fear that gripped her. But it passed quickly.
"Everybody looked so big," said Baran, a junior who hails from Fallston. Fear at the thought of competing against college swimmers gripped her.
But once shedove in to the water, she began to focus on that which she'd practiced for: winning.
As for handling pressure, the swimmers say learning that skill comes with the competition. Haynes holds two Towson State men's swimming records. Riordon calls him the most versatile overall swimmer. He is the men's team's top gun.
Sometimes, however, the pressure of keeping up with that reputation made life difficult.
"I'd feel like when I'm in the pool, they expect me to finish first," said Haynes, a senior from Edgewood. "At first, that added pressure. Now I've accepted it."
Everybody has their own way of keeping events in perspective. Shelley Wagner, a junior, took a year off from swimming after graduating from John Carroll. She said she looks at hertimes, which have dropped a lot since high school.
Others use friendships -- or more specifically, their Harford County friends.
Barnhill said her freshman year was made much easier by the fact that Novotny was there and eased her into the transition. They knew each other from high school, and Novotny simply paved the way for her C. Milton Wright teammate.
"It's nice to have somebody you know," Riordon said. "It can make the transition a lot simpler. It can be overwhelming."
Wagner said that even with her year off, the jitters were there when she began college competition. She, too, adjusted. "I try to think of it in the big picture," Wagner said.
Haynes has been able to realize what he does well and what he does very well. Haynes said he does better in different events -- shorter distances -- than hedid before.
He has worked hard with weights and concentrated on the shorter distances and improved. He holds team records in the 200 breast stroke and the 400 individual medley and has nine first-place finishes already in three meets this season.
"I've turned (people'sexpectations) into a motivator instead of letting it get to me," Haynes said.
And, like the other five Harford teammates, he's learnedto swim and not sink.