A Final Reflection on 2015 – 2016

By: Caroline Thomas, 2019

The school year is coming to an end. We are almost 2 months out of the swim season, and the truth is that I truly miss it. I miss the structure of practice and hanging out with the team. Just the other day I was thinking about how excited and scared I am for training trip which is a little less than 9 months away. Although we will be losing six seniors, I am excited to welcome the new members of the team. With so many new members, it will be interesting and exciting to create a new team dynamic. It is true what the advisors say, it is harder to stay on task when you do not have your sport in season. There is more free time, but I have managed to fill it with work and fun jobs like coaching soccer for Appomattox County High School’s JV girls. I am a duel sport athlete and now I am coaching. If you cannot already tell, I like to stay busy. Next year will be a new and exciting journey and I cannot wait to take it on with my team.

How to Survive Meet Warm-Up 101

By: Lydia Fleck (2016) and Claire Zak (2018)



Every swimmer knows the chaos of Meet Warm-Up. In club swimming, your team has its own lane(s) where your only worry is getting run over by your own team mates (at least you know them, right?). But in college swimming, that all goes out the window and it becomes the swimming version of the Hunger Games. Swimming for a women’s college, I am used to the average splash from my team mates with the occasional blow to the gut from a breaststroke kick or a casual smack in the head from a butterflyer. At meet invitationals and championship meets, I now have to worry about the tsunami waves coming off of the men that are swimming over me without any concern for the safety of my 5’4” self. And why should they? It’s every swimmer for themselves when it comes to warm-up. So to help my fellow swimmers, I have compiled some pointers to increase your chances of surviving the warm-up session:

1.Don’t go underwater in the middle of the lane to let someone pass – I sure hope you can hold your breath for a ridiculously long period of time because no one is going to let you resurface.

2. Kicking – You’re just asking to be ran over!

3. Breastroke – The lane just isn’t wide enough for that kind of nonsense…


(oh hey look…that person is still underwater)

4. Men, listen up! – You never seem to get in lanes with other men. Can you not see that I’m trying to take my time? I don’t appreciate drowning in your waves, so please, go swim with someone your own size.

5. Wall space – please keep your hands, arms, and legs away from the middle of the wall at all times. I am not responsible for any injuries you may receive while in the warm-up lane. Thank you and enjoy your warm up.


(Wow….that guy can hold his breathe for a long time, I think he might be turning blue)

6. Its called circle swimming – stay on your side of the lane and no one will get hurt.

7. Please enter and exit as quickly as possible – No one appreciates being jumped on.

8. Large teams – They need every single lane the pool has to offer. Just find a lane with as few swimmers in it and pray that more don’t join. They tend to multiply like rabbits. Swim into the wall and there’s only 2 people; flip and push off, there’s now 50 people in the lane.


(Sooooo the guy is lying at the bottom of the pool. Can someone alert the lifeguard?)

You are now ready for the traumatic experience of the warm up session. I hope these pointers are helpful in your survival and you are able to exit the pool unscathed. Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor!



So You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks? Think Again…

By: Hannah Oybkhan 2016
As I sit here thinking about ODACs coming up, I reflect on this past season and the rest of my time at Sweet Briar, most of which I spent on the field hockey and lacrosse fields.  However, I decided to come out of my 11 year “retirement” from swimming and join Sweet Briar’s swim team for my senior year.
The season was not easy though, I had forgotten a lot in that 11 years, but I was able to learn what I needed to and continually improve throughout the year.
It’s kind of weird though, I can relate to the other seniors when they talk about this being their last champs, but it’s different for me because this is my first and last champs.  What’s even weirder is that the season that seemed to be never ending, is coming to a close.
Since I’m primarily a land sport athlete, I learned to love the words “dry land workout” and “lifting session,” but it came as a shock to me when I told one of my teammates last week, “I think I’ve gotten slightly attached to swimming.”  I have never thought I would ever say those words in my life.
At the end of the day, I look at ODACs with a quote from Herb Brooks in mind, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.”  I’ve been fortunate enough to be given this great opportunity, now it’s time make these upcoming moments great!
BeFunky Collage

Last One, Fast One

By: Caroline Shepard 2016

Taper is the best part of swimming, hands down. You’re fit, fast, and swimming significantly less yardage on longer intervals. It’s pretty amazing.


Unfortunately, this will be my last taper which makes me fear my impending retirement as this might be the most in shape I will ever be for the rest of my life. More realistically, this will probably be the fastest I will be at swimming the rest of my life.


I decided to swim in college because I wanted to see how far I could take my swimming. How much faster could I get? What races am I really good at? In high school, I was on a team of 75 swimmers sharing 5 lanes. Doing the math, that’s about 15 people per lane. I don’t think I was able to swim a complete lap because of the sheer amount of people in the lane. And with that many people, I didn’t get much attention from the coach or get to swim a variety of events. I mostly kept to breaststroke. For most of that time, my swimming didn’t improve.


I was frustrated with myself because I knew I could do better, be faster if only given the opportunity. So, I started training harder with new coaches and putting in the extra hours weightlifting and conditioning. And one day, I ended up at my first collegiate practice, praying that I would be able to keep up with the rest of the team. Looking back on it now, I shouldn’t have worried as much as I did. I had found the right team and they were willing to give me the chance I was looking for.


So as the last ODAC Champs and the last meet I will swim in, I am starting to feel the pressure. For me, this meet will determine how far I took my swimming. The countless hours of training, the early mornings, the doubts, the pain, the tears over the past four years comes down to this.


The little 11-year-old that had just started swimming at her community pool is looking at me. The 14-year-old, elated that she just made her high school team, is looking at me. The 16-year-old, collapsed on the floor in pain from her first early morning lifting session, is looking at me. The 18-year-old that just swam her first 400 IM in her first collegiate meet is looking at me. They are looking at me as if to say, “Don’t let our work be in vain.” So I swim this meet for them. To assure them that their hard work meant something and to assure myself that the sacrifices made were worth it in the end.

The 21-year-old self answers back, “Leave it to me.”


By: Mary McDevitt 2017

Taper might mean “resting,” but don’t get it confused with “relaxing.” Everyone on the team is still going just as hard. We are going just as fast, but we are starting to cut down on the yardage to rest our muscles. We also aren’t backing down from our studies. We are preparing in and out of the pool for Champs. Now is not the time to relax. We aren’t backing down, even if taper means “resting.”

Snow Days

By: Molly VanBuren 2016

With the snow storm approaching there was a lot of talk about school cancellations for Friday. Everyone was hopeful for a snow day. Looking at all the weather projections and seeing that Sweet Briar was supposed to get from between 8 – 18 inches, everyone was freaking out. Being from Vermont, this is a normal amount of snow, so I was not phased much. As the storm got closer everyone was going to the grocery stores to get the essentials: food, water, juice, and hot chocolate. People were preparing for an apocalypse it seemed like, bunkering down. When Friday morning rolled around we had emails when we woke up saying that the school was closed. The snow was coming down heavily at 8:00 am and by noon there was about four inches. The swim team got together at 1:00 pm to do some snow day yoga. As we all went through yoga, we watched the snow fall. Even though we were not sledding, in order to keep ourselves out of harm’s way, we were still excited to play in the snow. The snow day was filled with laughter and fun in the snow. Everyone was having an enjoyable time and while I don’t love snow, after growing up in a very cold place, the first snow of the season is always fun. While everyone else on campus was going sledding that evening, we went and watched, making snow angels and cheering our friends on. The next day rolled around and the snow was still accumulating. The team all went out to play in the snow some more. There were many pictures taken and memories made. When it finally stopped snowing there was about a foot of snow. Watching everyone emerge and walk around amazed was funny to me, I have always been so used to having large amounts of snow for extended periods of time that this snow wasn’t unusual. My roommates and teammates from Virginia remind me endlessly that the snow is not a normal thing here, especially when I become frustrated at the incorrect processes of snow clean-up that occur. Within a week after the large storm, it had warmed up enough for there to no longer be snow, which is considered normal for Virginia but very unusual for the northern states. Having teammates that double as friends to spend the snow days with always make for a good time.


Taking a Bite out of the Big Apple

By: Chrissy Rabuse 2018

Well, I guess since the 2016 Snowpocalypse has started, it is time for me to reflect back on my winter internship experience. I worked for a small painting company, Nolan Painting, based out of Amityville, NY, but they do most of their work in New York City. I was their Interim Director of Marketing, so I managed all of the company’s social media sites. During my time in New York, I updated their Facebook profile, wrote monthly newsletter templates, and created a Nolan Painting Instagram (npi11701) and Houzz account- feel free to check it out! In addition to managing Nolan Painting social media, I also got to spend a lot of time in New York City with the CEO. We spent our mornings and early afternoons on job sites, which were mostly newly constructed skyscrapers, and then we would spend the rest of our day enjoying Manhattan.

My favorite day was when Mr. Nolan and I watched the new movie, Woman in Gold, then proceeded to visit the Neue Gallerie in Manhattan where the painting hangs today. It was so interesting to learn about the painting’s history and then view it in its home. Although I was sad to miss our winter training trip, I am glad I got the opportunity to learn and prove my marketing ability.

Training Trip 2016: Day 11

Zen and the Art of Swimming – Final Training Trip Blog Post

by Coach

The expectation is high and the anticipation of writing this blog and doing it justice is killing me. The coaching voice inside my head speaks to me, “Just focus on one thing at a time, not the entire blog, one word at a time….just get started.” Why the anticipation? Well, I know my team, the backseat drivers, the analyst, the deep thinkings, the strong, intelligent Sweet Briar women who require more than a simple explanation, the ones who have as high of expectations for me as coach as I do for them as swimmers. So I will fall back on the advice of my “student coach”, Lydia Fleck who carefully staged our photo shoots, blog posts and overall presence in Florida this past week. “Coach your blog should include the quotes you gave us each day to keep us focused”. Not a bad idea, Lydia.

Workout #1: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

The first day of training always brings with it a lot of worry and concern, athletes wonder if they prepared properly for what lies ahead of them, they have questions about each workout and with this particular team they want to “mentally prepare” for the entire week. As a coach, I worry too. A training trip can make or break a team. If an athlete arrives unprepared for the increased training volume they can get injured and not able to recover and train properly for the end of season conference meet.. Grueling workouts and fatigue could also bring out the worst in a team and the team dynamic can carry over to the final leg of the season; the balance is precarious. Over ten plus years of taking training trips with teams, I have learned one sure thing SUN = SUCCESSFUL TRIP. We had sun!

Workout #2 : “Focus like a laser and not a flashlight” Michael Jordan

Swimming success takes focus, one small change in stroke technique can slow a swimmer down or give them an edge. The team focused like a laser all week!

Workout #3: “The whole idea is not to beat the other runners, eventually you learn the competition is against the little voice inside your head” George Sheehan

By workout three some athletes are feeling fatigued and wondering if they can get back in the pool and push hard for the next session. Of course, I too know that workout number three will challenge the team mentally and physically so I prepare one of the hardest workouts of the week. The voices that day were strong!

Workout #4: “A game of football is just sixty minutes, but I am training six, seven hours every day! So going for 60 minutes becomes easy” Ray Lewis

Ditto for swimming….except very few races last more than two and a half minutes. After logging 20 plus hours of training time in 6 days, we can face any race with confidence because no race  will produce the blisters and soreness of the past week.

Workout #5: You’re off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting so get on your way”. Dr. Suess

The enticement of an afternoon at the beach in lieu of afternoon practice, got the team in the water and ripping through the workout!

Workout # 6: “I have put my mind and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process”. Vincent Van Gogh

My team thinks only a sick mind can concoct the crazy workouts I give to them. More importantly they know how much I would LOVE to do one of those crazy workouts. I had a chance to swim with the Palm Beach Masters a few mornings while in town. If you ever want to be surrounded by positive energy and a true love of the sport, jump into a masters (swimmers 18 to 100+) practice. I also believe that in every great athlete there is a little bit of “crazy” thus the quote. If you want to excel at something you have to be “crazy passionate” about pursuing that endeavor. (Note: the Vassar College coaches were also at the 5:45 AM practice with me – we are all just a little crazy!)

Workout #7: Just remember every moment, every situation, provides a new choice and in doing so, it give you an opportunity to do things differently to produce more positive results.” Stephen Covey – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

If you are not happy with the way you are swimming, make a change! What do you need to do to go faster? Figure it out….

Workout #8: “May your choice reflect your hopes, not your fears”.

Each swimmer had a chance to pick the workout they wanted to complete. Each workout was a challenge and I have to say they choose wisely and picked the workout I would have chosen for them. NO FEAR in these VIXENS!

Workout #9 : “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory”

As the training trip was coming to an end and the sun was turning to rain, it would be easy for negative thoughts to take over. However for each member of the team this training trip was going to carry with it a different meaning or memory, for Caroline Thomas and Hannah Obykhan they survived their first trip. Mary McDevitt made it through a week of double practices with her elbow intact. Claire Zak  is now a veteran with a second trip under her belt. The five other seniors, Lydia Fleck, Kat Jorgensen, Kiersten Garcia, Caroline Shepard, and Molly VanBuren have completed four full years of trips with memories to keep discussions lively and fun through many years of reunions. The 80 year old master swimmer, training in the lane next to us, said it best , “Please tell these young women to cherish this time, it passes by too quickly!”

Workout #10 (Last workout in Florida) “Starting strong is good, finishing strong is epic”
This is an EPIC team, end of discussion!


Training Trip 2016: Day 10

Swim Training Trip Through the Eyes of the Soccer Coach by Amy Dahlin


When I joined the coaching staff full-time in August to head the soccer program at Sweet Briar, head swim coach, Donna Hodgert invited me to tag along for the swim team’s annual training trip to Florida.  She needed a second coach to help shepherd the team through the airport, to and from the hotel, training, and trips to the beach, dinner with alumnae, etc.  Who could say no to a week in Florida in January and sun, warm temperatures versus possible snow and winter weather?


I have to confess that I hardly know anything about competitive swimming in the terms of technique, practice regimes, and swimmer etiquette.  I experienced the de ja vu of my childhood when my parents always said, “they were laughing with me” when I was a kid and did something that they found amusing, but had managed to adorably embarrass myself.  I learned how to correctly start a race, which I horribly botched a couple of times sending some of our swimmers in a rush off the blocks to almost belly flopping into the pool.  “On your mark, get set, go!”  That’s how I started these girls off the blocks. The second time I started them they tried to adapt to my incorrect sendoff, and I changed my cadence and threw them off once again.  I think we all laughed about my starting technique every night at dinner for the rest of the trip.


As a soccer player and a coach, running 3-5 miles is a standard training norm.  When Donna told the girls they were going to run 2.5 miles to the pool every day I could see their minds working overtime.  To them, it was so out of their wheelhouse you would have thought they were being asked to run a marathon, or climb a mountain.  The girls started brainstorming to create checkpoints and running buddies.  Donna was patient and let them process through their reservations.  I on the other hand, immediately put my verbal foot down and explained that it’s just a jog for a couple of miles.  I would drive the route and be available if they needed anything.


A couple days into the trip the girls got up, threw their swim bags in my car, and took off for the pool once again.  Less than a half-mile into the run I received a call from Kat explaining that Molly had fallen and scraped up her knee.  I drove to Molly’s rescue and took her to the pool. The lifeguard’s first aid training kicked in and he cleaned and patched up Molly’s knee.  As the rest of the team arrived at the pool we had the standard “I told you so” talk.  In all fairness, they had warned me.


As I sit on the plane heading back to a forecast of 30 degrees and bidding farewell to the sunshine state, I really can’t complain.  We had a great week.  If you’ve been following along with the blog, you have an idea of how hard these young women have worked.  They ran 2.5 miles and swam 4 hours a day, most of the time with a permanent wedgie (Kat).  They trained like champions and pushed through sets that were mentally grueling.  These Sweet Briar women represent the strength, intelligence, and excellence of every Sweet Briar student, past and present.  I’m beyond fortunate to have the opportunity to teach and train these young women who are about to change the world.

P.S.-  Donna, sign me up for next year