Jan. 25, 2016
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - As a distance freestyler, Anna Lynch spends a whole lot of time in the water at practice and swim meets for Marshall.
Most of the experience is what the freshman from Oakwood, Ohio, expected. When she was recruited by Coach Bill Tramel, Lynch was told she would be swimming the grueling events of lap-after-lap - the 500, 1,000 and 1,650 yards.
However, she says she didn't expect to be swimming in her own "Neverland" - and there's nothing fictional about it.
As the Herd points toward the Conference USA Championships in late February in Atlanta, Lynch already has set school records in the 1,000 and the mile. She just missed the Herd mark in the 500, by .18 second, too.
But it's not that she reset the records. It was where Lynch came from to do it in the Nike Cup at Chapel Hill, N.C., in November.
In the 1,650 at Nike Cup, she flipped for the 1,000 at 10:07.31, breaking Kaley Gregory's mark of 10:08.59 set in 2014. Lynch finished the 1,650 (mile) in 16:43.52, rolling past Gregory's 2014 record of 16:51.88. Lynch swam the 500 in 4:49.37, just off teammate Madi Pulfer's 2015 mark of 4:49.19.
Since coming to Marshall, the freshman has improved by 8 seconds in the 500, and a whopping 41 seconds-plus in the 1,650 - from 17:25.08 to her 16:43.52.
So, when did she figure she'd reach her current times?
"I truly thought never, really," Lynch said, smiling. "I've been training a lot more distance and on my club team (the Dayton Raiders) I didn't get as much of that, so we've done more long distance sets and pace sets that I didn't get to do before. And we train 20 hours a week here, so that definitely has an effect.
"For (the Raiders), I swam distances a little, mainly the 200 and 500 free actually. I only got to swim the 1,000 and mile once, so really didn't have much experience with it, so getting more experience in the dual meets early this season helped, without a doubt.
"I think the 500 is my best event. It's my favorite to swim. I like the length of it. Obviously, every event is painful Ã¢â'¬Â¦ but for some reason know how to manage the most in it, I guess."
Tramel's freshman class already has made a significant impact on an improving Herd program. He said he expected improvement from Lynch in the distance events, but has been stunned by her rapid growth.
"Just watching on a daily basis, some of the workout performance - it's really good, and that's going to pay off down the line," Tramel said of his team. "I think it already has with some of our swimmers, like Anna - breaking school records early in the year.
"Somebody like her, I see it every day. She throws down every single day. She drops from a 4:57 to 4:49 in the 500 free. That's an enormous drop, a giant drop. And I'd be lying if I saw a 4:49 coming, but I certainly saw a 4:52. I knew there would be a big drop, but not a giant drop.
"In the mile, I kind of have a 30-second rule... By that, whatever you are in the 1,650 free out of high school, I can get you 30 seconds faster your freshman year with our training. So obviously, she's a little better than that.
"Anna is relatively quiet in practice. She just kind of does the work, businesslike. OK, this is what we're doing, puts her head down, knocks out the work - and at a very high level. In some ways, she's not that much different than anybody else on our team, because we do have a lot of great workers, a lot of people who come in every day and give 110 percent.
"She's not alone; she's far from the only one. Maybe a little bit of the surprise is that Anna does it so quietly in practice. She might talk among her lane partners and the like but she's not really super vocal. She's certainly enjoyable to coach and watch train."
Lynch also posted a 4.0 GPA in business in her first Marshall semester, and while she's still trying to figure out what major to choose within the college, she knows her swimming future will include numbers she never expected.
"I was most surprised how I dropped eight seconds in the 500 and gosh, I don't know how much in the mile (1-plus)," Lynch said. "I remember at the beginning of year I had a goal meeting with Bill and my goal in the 500 was 4:54, and I broke that by 5 seconds. My goal for the mile was 17 minutes, which I broke by 17 seconds.
"And I was just so shocked. I mean, I worked hard in practice every day, obviously, just as I had in high school and on our club team, but for some reason it just worked out.
"I think it's very important to have goals for yourself. Dropping 8 seconds was obviously huge and I can't expect to do that again, but I'd love to drop another second or two. We weren't shaved at Nike Cup and that makes a big difference for me. Another factor was the pool wasn't as fast, I wasn't wearing a new suit, we weren't tapered, so I think I can expect to drop some more time with all of those things factored in."
In recruiting, Lynch said she "looked at WVU a little bit, George Mason, Richmond, Villanova, kind of all over the place. I took my recruiting trips (to Villanova, George Mason and Marshall) and I really liked the environment here between the team and the coaches and just the campus. It just seemed like a really great place."
Lynch also said it helps a newcomer to a program to have a familiar face on hand, and she has that in classmate Maddie Schaffer, a former Dayton Raider teammate who swims butterfly.
"We're roommates, and we get along really well," Lynch said. "We were on the same club team but went to different high schools, so we weren't the closest of friends.
"But since we both came here for swimming, we've become really close. It helps me a lot to be able to have someone who knows my background really well and even when we go home, to go train, we're there with each other, so it's really great."
Lynch said she was pushed in competition at the Nike Cup, where the Herd finished sixth as a team, with the top four finishers nationally ranked schools like North Carolina and Duke. She finished tied for fourth in the 500 and placed 10th in the 1,650. The day-to-day experience with teammates in the Fitch Natatorium water - thanks to that deep freshman class - also has made a difference.
"I remember before my 500 at the (Nike) finals, I told myself, 'They're going to be so far ahead of you, don't worry about it. Just do your own thing and focus on your own race,'" Lynch said. "And I actually passed several of them, which was actually surprising for me. It pushes you, the top competition - it was pretty weird what happened.
"It's very competitive, even in practice. Obviously, you have to be an extremely competitive person to succeed in college swimming, and I'm competitive in practice and at meets. (Setting records as a freshman), it does put pressure on myself, because I have to do those times again - really, not just do those times, but go faster, which is definitely stressful. But I know I have a great team behind me Ã¢â'¬Â¦ I think I do well under pressure, actually."
The Herd heads for Vanderbilt to swim against the host Commodores and North Florida on Saturday, then hosts the three-team Marshall Invitational on Feb. 5-6 before breaking to train for the Feb. 24-27 C-USA Championships.
"My class, we are all very focused, dedicated and it's really great to be surrounded by other people like that," Lynch said of the Herd freshmen. "I couldn't do it without them and their support. We all really love the sport and all have goals for ourselves and those fit into the team goals.
"For me, I was expecting improvement, moving from my club team and high swimming to college, and I definitely exceeded those expectations already. I wasn't planning on it, but it happened. As for the team, I was expecting us to have a really good environment on the team and we've really done a good job with that - just coming together and working together. As for conference at end of the year, I'm expecting us - I don't want to say 'win' - but definitely move up in our (fourth-place) standing from last year."