When Emma Reaney signed up for the Lawrence Aquahawks club swim team as an 8-year-old in 2001, she was one of approximately 225 members on head coach Brian Barnes’ squad.
Reaney, one of the team’s younger swimmers, had limited contact with Barnes — “I think he maybe signed me up when I first walked in and that was about it.” — but over the next decade, she put in the work and caught his attention ... just not with the Aquahawks. Divergent career paths realigned at the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 2010, when Reaney once again signed to swim for Barnes, the Fighting Irish’s head coach.
Now a junior at Notre Dame, Reaney has made a huge splash not only in the school’s record books, but the NCAA and American ones, too. Saturday at the ACC Championships, Reaney broke NCAA Division I and American records in the 200-yard breaststroke with a time of 2:04.34.
“I didn’t know until right after the race that it was the American record,” Reaney said. “I knew it was a fast time. I immediately just started bawling. (Barnes) ran over and he kind of leaned down hugged me in the pool.”
Barnes’ race strategy for Reaney was to get out of the blocks fast, and she did just that by swimming the first 100 in 59.35 seconds.
“We had a conversation earlier that day that, simply, the assignment was to get out under a minute in the first 100,” Barnes said. “I said, ‘Emma, you’ve got to get out under a minute,’ and she said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ ‘Alright, it’s on.’”
Reaney’s time beat Texas A&M senior Breeja Larson’s previous record by .14 seconds. Larson, a member of the 2012 Olympic gold-medalist 400-meter medley relay team, will be part of what Reaney anticipates to be an extremely tough field at the NCAA Championships, March 20-22 in Minneapolis.
“The meet is definitely going to be a lot faster than last year already,” Reaney said. “I’m definitely expecting some great races.”
The 200 breaststroke is one of four individual event records Reaney holds at Notre Dame — the others being the 100 breaststroke and the 200 and 400 IM.
Emma’s mother, Ann Reaney, was in attendance to see her daughter’s record-breaking performance at the ACC Championships. Prior to the 200 breaststroke, Emma won the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM as well, but even Ann was surprised following her daughter’s final race.
“I don’t like to say shocked, because I wasn’t expecting it, but if anyone could do it, I knew it was her,” Ann said. “I was just in shock and happy and emotional and just so happy for her because she has worked so hard.”
Emma’s hard work throughout her swimming career earned her bids to the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Trials. She plans on competing in the 2016 Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., to try to qualify for the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. However, Emma does not want to get ahead of herself.
“I just want to finish out my time here and represent Notre Dame because I can’t even put into words how much I love this school,” Emma said. “I kind of want to focus on that while I’m here. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there because I’ll have a year between graduation and the Olympics. So I need to figure out if I’m going to get a job or if I’m just going to train.”
Emma was 15 years old, and still a member of the Aquahawks, when she swam at the 2008 Olympic Trials. One of her fondest recollections of competing for the Aquahawks happened a few weeks later.
“I think one of my favorite club swimming memories was the first year that the Aquahawk women won sectionals,” Emma said. “I had grown up watching the Kansas City Blazers totally annihilate everyone and always win everything. That year, seeing our team come together and just really kick butt on the relays and individual races was a really cool thing to be a part of.”
After making a name for herself with the Aquahawks, Emma competed for Lawrence High during her sophomore year. She set five LHS records in one season with the Lions before wrapping up her high school swimming career with Ad Astra Area Aquatics.
“It was definitely different because I was swimming in high school back when we weren’t allowed to do club at the same time, so that is the reason I only did it one year,” Emma said. “It wasn’t quite the same training level, but I had so much fun competing for my high school and representing Lawrence High. The meets were great and I loved all the girls on the team.”
Barnes loved Lawrence, too
Just like Emma, Barnes has racked up his fair share of accolades since leaving Lawrence. Barnes was head coach of the Aquahawks from 1998-2002 before returning to his alma mater, Indiana University, to be an assistant.
Barnes helped Indiana finish fourth or higher at the Big Ten Championships in each of his three seasons as an assistant for the Hoosiers’ men’s team. In 2005, he moved on to an assistant position at the University of Auburn, where he helped coach the Tigers men’s and women’s squads to national titles in 2006 and 2007.
Barnes, an assistant at Kansas University for two seasons from 1997-98, credited his time with the Aquahawks for preparing him to be successful at the Division I level.
“It was an outstanding experience. It changed me as a coach,” Barnes said. “It taught me a lot. The people in the city of Lawrence and the people in that program watched me grow up a little bit.”
Barnes’ success has continued since taking the helm of the Notre Dame women’s swimming and diving program. The three-time Big East Women’s Coach of the Year has helped swimmers such as Reaney shine on the national scene.
“Obviously he’s been great for her,” Ann said. “I think they have a very good swimmer/coach relationship with mutual respect. They are both hard workers and they’re there to get things done, but I think they also throw in some fun.”