Caroline Mather ’19 is a sprinter. “One of my high school coaches said I was wound up, like a top, and I would just spin off.”
The senior swimmer is heading to the NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships for the second time in her Carleton career over Spring Break. Mather was invited based on her performance in the 50-yard freestyle event, but will also be eligible to compete in up to two additional events at the Championships. Mather is currently seeded 12th among all Division III swimmers for the 50-yard freestyle event.
“Going into conference, which is our fastest meet of the season, I knew I would have to go about a 23.5 to be in a solid place to get invited, and I went a 23.4, which is not a best time for me, but close to a best time.”
There are two qualification times that constitute eligibility to compete in the Championships.
“There’s a B qualification time and an A qualification time,” Mather explained. “The A-cut is automatic invitation to the meet, and that’s based on the top swims from the year before, so very few people get that. The B-cut is not as fast, but that means you’re in consideration to get invited, and they have a very complicated invite process, where they start by taking a set number of relays, and then for every event they fill up the rows with the fastest people. It’s about top 20 swimmers in every event, but kind of varies year to year. I’ve gotten the B-cut all four years, but I only got invited sophomore year and this year.”
During her sophomore year, Mather finished seventh in the 100-yard freestyle event and 12th in the 50-yard freestyle event at the NCAA Division III Championships in 2017.
“Once that was all over, I realized how burnt out I was, and I knew how much work it was going to take to make it years after that,” Mather said. “Last year, I didn’t get invited. That wasn’t the goal for last year. I had a lot of other priorities with school and other stuff. But then, coming into this year, I felt like I kind of wanted to do it again, to almost prove myself one last time. So it was the goal this year to try to do that again and repeat my sophomore year.”
Training to compete at Mather’s level entails a serious time commitment. Over the summer, Mather said she would generally try to swim three times a week and lift two to three times a week. In season, Mather has morning practices or lifting three times a week, afternoon practices five days a week and has meets or additional practices on weekends.
Mather is originally from a suburb of Denver, Colorado, where she began to swim when she was 11.
“I think I was 11 or 12 when I started, just at a summer swim club for a while. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I joined a competitive club team. I was a very late-to-the-game swimmer.”
“Since I started swimming competitively so late, it was for the most part of high school and freshman and sophomore year there was a very rapid increase in getting better,” Mather added.
When asked whether competitive swimming generally entails consistent improvement, Mather acknowledged that “it’s not uncommon to see a plateau in improvement, especially in college.”
“I don’t like saying that I’ve plateaued, but I wouldn’t expect to see dramatically faster times at nationals. I think I’ve kind of hit the mark that I’ll get to.”
Reflecting on how she gets into race mode, Mather said, “for my sprint events, it’s always helped me to be tense.”
“I think, to an extent, the nerves really help me in my races, but it has definitely gotten to a point where it has a negative effect. I’ll sometimes do relaxing breathing techniques before races. Over the past four years, I’ve gotten to know a lot of the other swimmers from the schools we compete with, so I’ll sometimes chat with them before races, which sometimes calms me down.”
“But in the moment, at big meets, when I’m actually right there behind the block, there are a lot of nerves going up to that,” Mather continued. “But I know what I’ve accomplished over the past four years, and by the time you get to that end meet, you know pretty much exactly what’s going to happen. I usually try to remind myself that I’ve done this so many times and I can do it again.”
Outside the pool, Mather is a physics major and is currently in the midst of the Comps process.
“It’s been a pretty busy term,” Mather said. I had the first version of Comps due, then the conference meet, and then Comps presentation, and now I have revisions on my Comps paper and Nationals coming up.”
In addition to varsity swimming, mental health initiatives are a priority for Mather. This term, Mather has been involved in outreach for the Office of Health Promotion’s Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR) workshop to address suicide risk, planning for the Mental Health Awareness Collective’s (MHAC) Break the Silence event, and serves as a Student Wellness Advocate (SWA). Mather is also a Student Departmental Adviser (SDA) for the Physics department.
“Sleep is probably one of the biggest things for me, especially when I’m in season and training, I have to get up at six for morning practice,” said Mather. “It’s just not going to be a good use of my time at night or in the long run to stay up until midnight or later working on something. I’ve always felt that having a strict schedule helps me get more done. If you know you’re going to try to be asleep by ten, you really have to get working earlier.”
Mather said her busy schedule “does get overwhelming sometimes. There are some nights when I am definitely not in bed by ten.”
The NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships will be held from March 20-23, 2019 in Greensboro, North Carolina.