Emma Reaney’s freshman year at the University of Notre Dame has been an ongoing series of surprises.
It wasn’t moving away from home, the course load or college life in general that caught the Lawrence High graduate off guard, though. Instead, she has been kind of shocked about her prosperity in the pool.
A freshman for Notre Dame’s swimming and diving team, Reaney has become an instant success in South Bend, Ind. The Fighting Irish freshman already has an 8-0 record in individual-medley events (200 and 400 meters), and on Dec. 2 in Columbus, Ohio, she set a school record in the 200 IM — twice. After breaking the old mark in prelims at the Ohio State Invitational with a time of 1:58.47, Reaney bettered it in the final, finishing in 1:57.67.
When she broke the old record of 2:00.09 in the prelim, Reaney wasn’t aware of it.
“I was just shocked. I had no idea,” she said.
The ND record board at the team’s practice facility, she explained, is kind of small and on the other side of the pool from where the team swims. Reaney had never bothered to check out the times for her events, but her teammates and coaches quickly broke the news to her.
That surprise came a couple of weeks after another one, when Reaney was named Big East Women’s Swimming and Diving Athlete of the Week in mid-November. The recognition wowed the Lawrence native.
“I didn’t even know that the Big East had an honor or award like that before I got here,” she said. “I was kind of shocked that they were even paying attention to me as a freshman.”
Her record-breaking day at Ohio State earned Reaney more accolades. She received her second Big East award the following week.
Reaney said she figured one couldn’t win the award twice in the same season.
Few have. Since the conference started handing out the honor in 2008, only two other swimmers — Notre Dame’s Samantha Maxwell and Louisville’s Therese Bergstrom — have pulled off the feat.
“I really didn’t expect to have this kind of success as a freshman,” Reaney said.
Taking on a weight-lifting regimen for the first time in her life, she said, helped her become stronger and cut seconds off her times.
Fighting Irish head coach Brian Barnes, who has known Reaney since she was a child on the Lawrence Aquahawks club team, which he coached from 1998 to 2002, said, “You never know what to expect with freshmen,” but he said he could tell Reaney was on the brink of something special because of her attitude and dedication to improving.
“I can’t really pin-point a bad performance, bad practice or anything like that,” he said.
Reaney’s string of success has put her in position possibly to compete at the NCAA Championships in March, in Auburn, Ala. She swims in not only the IM but also the breaststroke, and at the Ohio State Invitational she finished in the top four in seven events and put together seven NCAA B-cut times. An A-cut automatically qualifies a swimmer for the championships in that event, but if the A spots don’t fill up, the best B-cut times qualify.
Reaney has a few months to post an A-cut time, and she thinks her best bets are in the 200 IM and 100 breast. Those aren’t specific goals, however, because Reaney said she never really set any of those.
That falls in line, she added, with Barnes’ instruction to ND swimmers following their accomplishments. Reaney said the coach’s message goes like this: “We’re not gonna celebrate it, because that’s not the limit. You never know what your limit is.”
“Sometimes the best thing you can do is just work our tails off and leave the gates wide open and see what happens,” Barnes said.
With Reaney’s talent and ambitious approach, not even Barnes knows how she’ll surprise herself next.
“She’s got seven more semesters at Notre Dame, right?” he said. “I mean, what else are you going to do?”