North Central Swimming pushes off the bottom of the pool
“I just absolutely love the sport,” said Ben Laurich, a senior on North Central’s men’s swimming and diving team. “It’s just something that has just been a huge, huge part of my life. And coming here and going through the variety of different coaching changes, I wanted to see this program just survive and to live. I didn’t want to let something that I hold so dear to me just vanish from the school. I mean, there are our freshmen and so are juniors and sophomores who have came here to swim, and I want to make sure that they can have that opportunity to continue doing what they love.”
Things were certainly not in a good place at the end of last season for Cardinals swimming. The teams would each only return four athletes this year. Laurich would be the men’s team’s only senior, and the team added just two freshmen. It was a similar story for the women’s team, all underclassmen, but they did bring in the boost that five of their members recently won a national championship as part of the Cardinals’ triathlon team.
“It’s like it’s a little harder to keep up that energy because like, we’re so motivated to do our best because we like, really, really want to win,” said sophomore Taylin Lemke of the transition from triathlon season into swimming. “Swimming, I’m like, ‘I know we’re not going to win’ but it’s just it’s really easy to stay motivated because all the girls and and the guys too are just so supportive and we all show up like, even though we know we’re not going to like, do good, like overall.”
New year, new coaches
Neither team had a permanent coach for the second half of last season, so in order for the teams to begin a new path forward the first step was to fill those positions. Averi Lewis, who was also hired as the coach of the aforementioned triathlon team, took over the women’s team and Nora Schroedter, a 1986 North Central alumna and former Cardinals swimmer, took charge of the men’s team.
“I grew up being a competitive swimmer,” said Lewis. “I started when I was little and just kind of kept doing it all the way through high school. And then even some coaching was my first ever summer job when I was 14, so just something I did to make a couple hundred bucks in the summer and then just kept coming back year after year and kind of moving my way up from assistant coach to head coach and, you know, never really set out for this to be my career path. But along the way I just discovered that I really loved it and I had a calling for it.”
“I’ve wanted to coach here for a very long time and when the opportunity arose, I jumped at it as quick as I could,” Schroedter said. “I really want to build this team back up to where it was when I swam here back in the dark ages and when Coach Ryan ran it. And I’m really hoping that I can do it justice like he did and bring this team back to where it was.”
“Growing up with a swim coach, I know what I want to get out of a coach and especially someone who is going to be incredibly committed and just work towards the longevity and success of this program,” said Laurich of the hiring process, having grown up being coached by his dad. “And Nora displayed, went above and beyond to every single question that we asked. And she really was working not just with me, but with the entirety of the team to grow, recruit, push to, again, make sure that we are accountable for each other and that we can make sure that the recruits we have coming in feel like this is a place where they can enjoy it and really continue to develop their skills.”
“I was pretty burnt out on it and just had a negative experience with a coach,” reflected Lewis. “And so for me, it’s always kind of been a mission just to give athletes that better experience and to try to enjoy swimming more. I mean, swimming is it’s a delayed gratification sport. There’s a lot of work that goes into it for for very small gains. And so I just wanted to make the sport as enjoyable as possible for athletes and prevent some of those experiences of injury and burnout that I had gone through in my own athletic career.”
“I think it was great that we were able to kind of plan out how we wanted to see the season go and work together with different practice times, because it’s hard with kids having classes at all the different times,” said Schroedter on the opportunity for her and Lewis to take over at the same time. “And once, you know, we changed over two semesters, that also changed all the class schedules as well too. So, you know, there’s a few times that we’re able to offer some other practices available to those kids and then, you know, just kind of creating that whole program with dry land training and some training together and being able to to bring it forth. So it was great.”
“Working with Nora has been awesome,” added Lewis. “I think it’s been so cool for this team for us to both be able to work with these athletes, you know, even though I’m the head women’s coach and she’s a head men’s coach, we really just are the north central swimming coaches. You know, we I help the guys and I care about the guys and their performance just as much as I do my ladies. And so I think it’s just been really cool that we both brought some different strengths to the table that we were able to combine.”
Working hard every day to succeed in the future
With the teams more or less starting from scratch, the goals being set are long-term. It’s a potentially tough reality for upperclassmen like Laurich, who won’t see the fruits of their efforts this season, and even for younger athletes who know they’ll have to push through tough times to reach the places they hope they can take the program in the next couple of years.
“I want to make sure that they know what this program means to me and what this program means for a lot of the other alumni out there,” said Laurich. “I mean, I still talk with some of my friends who have graduated, and I’ve explained to them the struggles that the program has gone through. And I’ve seen them kind of have vocal support for that. But I want to make sure that they are able to continue growing and putting forth an effort to build this program to the best that it can possibly be. Because I know Nora is 100% on board for that. I want to make sure that they understand and can really maximize the time they have to, again, grow this program.”
“I knew they had a hard last few years and weren’t really coached as much as they should have been,” Schroedter said. “So I had, you know, I was thankful that they gave me a chance and accepted me and accepted what I was trying to do with their training and and they bought into it, which was wonderful. The other part of it was the recruits that I brought in. They really, really stepped up to the plate and helped talk about the program and what we’re looking to do and the school as well.”
“We really don’t expect to see those breakthrough performances until the end of the season,” Lewis said. “So as we’re going from those meets and to practice every day, it’s really all about just trying to learn how to be a better swimmer, how to have some takeaways from every race or every practice about how you can be better next time.”
“I love it when it’s a big team and when we’re all practicing together because everybody like, has like so much personalities and they’re all different and stuff,” said Lemke. “So I think the atmosphere created is so much better and so motivating and like, everybody is working hard. And like I’m not the fastest, so like sometimes seeing the guys going really fast, I’m like, ‘Oh, I can beat them.’ So then I try to work harder so that I can beat one of the guys on the team. That’s just like my personal motivation.”
Improvements and big future plans for Cardinals Swimming
Even if team results in the pool didn’t noticeably improve, there is ample reason for hope. Swimmers set plenty of personal records over the course of this season, roster improvements are well on the way via Lewis’ and Schroedter’s recruiting efforts, and new facilities are being sought out to grow the team’s potential and exposure. They may have ended last year feeling like they were sinking, but now there’s no doubt these teams are on their way to breaking through as they swim upward.
“I’ve doubled the size of the team so far already and I’ve also established to home meets at the FMC Natatorium, which is probably one of the best facilities definitely in the Midwest, if not in the nation,” Schroedter said. “And it’s just going to draw some teams up this way too, for some good competition and also start getting our name out there in the swimming world and just really start helping us bring in those recruits and attract recruits to our program.”
“I absolutely do want to just keep growing the team and bringing more not only good good athletes, but good people to the team,” said Lewis. “So as I’m looking for recruits, I’m not only checking, you know, do they have competitive times, but, you know, are they passionate about the sport and mastering the sport? Do they still want to get better? Do they still believe they can get better? And then do they want to be a part of this tight knit team culture that we’re trying to create? Are they going to pour into their other teammates and support them and and really elevate their team, you know, with their their membership?”
“I would hopefully like to see it get bigger,” Lemke said. “That’d be really exciting to maybe have more than just like the swim team talk about the swim team because like, when I tell you all my other friends that there’s a swim team they’re like, ‘What? I didn’t know we had a swim team. I didn’t even know we had a pool.’”
“I think they can see the potential of of what we can be,” Schroedter said of the teams’ younger members. “And they see the people that I’m bringing in as recruits and only there to help elevate the team and bring the team back up. You know, I have a handful of recruits coming in right now that potentially more and especially that could get onto the national championship.”
“She is an incredibly motivating coach and will push us and, her words, she’s ‘fine with us hating’ her because she’s she’s been here. She’s been through it all,” said Laurich of Schroedter. “And again, she knows how to get the best out of us. And you know what? I’m fine if there’s a little bit of discomfort, you know, there’s a little bit of anger towards her every once in a while. But she is there is to to push people. I want them to understand that, again, like we we have the ability to to be great and we have the ability to go compete at conference at a high level and score more points than we have in the past. Because, you know, four people, it’s pretty hard to score a lot of points. But like actually having like a B relay or a C relay and being able to go and compete with these guys is going to be just a huge just kind of door open when that happens, they’re going to see that like, oh my gosh, like we’re in it now and it’s going to be a huge just kind of click and they’re just going to just go.”