Senior Sarah Leitner is one of the hardest working student- athletes at Hillsdale College. A dedicated student, Collegian reporter, and record breaking swimmer, Leitner does it all. As senior swim season starts she still has some unfinished business; qualify for the national meet.
How is the team looking this year?
The team is looking really good this year. We have a lot of depth. We have a great freshman class coming in. We have some really solid swimmers that are returning this year. So, I’m really positive about how the team will be this year.
How has the team done so far?
It was a tough meet against Northern Michigan, and we lost to them. But this past weekend we won against Lewis and lost to Grand Valley. It was a pretty close meet against Grand Valley even though the score doesn’t seem like it.
What are your goals on a personal and a team level this year?
On a personal level, this is my last year to go to nationals, and I want to go. I’ve been so close for the past couple of years. Last year, the 800 [meter free relay], which I was a part of was a couple of spots out of nationals and the year before that. Individually, I think I was a couple spots out of nationals for the 200 [meter] free. So, It’s our last year and I just want to go for it. As a team, we want to get up in the top of the GLIAC at our conference meet. We want to challenge Grand Valley. We want to challenge Ashland. Northern Michigan is always kind of a rival, so we want to beat them at conference.
What has been your most memorable swimming experience so far?
I set a couple records my sophomore year. On the 500 [meter]free, I set a record of 5:06. I didn’t know that it was in me at all. At the beginning of the season I was going 5:18, 5:19, and then at conference I went a 5:06. It was an incredible drop for me. My little sister is swimming with me on the team, and that’s a lot of fun. [It’s been great] just to cheer her on from the sidelines and see how far she’s come since I swam with her in high school.
How long have you been swimming and when did you decide you wanted to compete in the collegiate level?
I’ve been swimming competitively since I was six. I started taking swim lessons when I was like two years old. I always wanted to swim in college. It was just a matter of if I wanted to go D1 or D2. I really wanted to go to a D1 school, and then I tore my meniscus. That kind of set me back a little bit in my training. So, I was looking more at D2 and D3 schools. When I came to visit Hillsdale, it seemed like a really good fit for me.
You are one of six seniors on this year’s team. How have you bonded over these past four years?
We’re a pretty tight group. A couple of the other girls came in knowing each other, but we’ve really gotten to know each other better over the years. We rely on each other and go to each other for advice on certain things. We’ve grown closer through the years and I really look forward to finishing the season with them.
Do you have any strange rituals or routines before a meet?
I wouldn’t say anything too out of the ordinary or anything unusual. There’s usually a “pump-up song” that changes every year. I haven’t quite pinned down mine this year. Last year it was “All I Do Is Win.” I always clap when I get up on the blocks three times. I guess that’s kind of a ritual.
What are practices like?
They’ve gotten tougher every year. [Coach Kurt Kirner] has really been pushing us. He’s kind of moved some stuff around this year and we only have two morning [practices] a week, which has been nice. But then we’re in the water two hours every afternoon along with 45 minutes to an hour of either weight training or dry land training. So, we’re getting close to our four-hour time max every day. It’s hard training, but we’re used to it.
How do you think that being a collegiate athlete has affected your experience at Hillsdale?
It’s been very valuable in shaping how I manage time, and how I prioritize. It’s also gave me a great group of people that I always have around me. It’s been a lot of extra work, but it’s all been worth it. It’s really made me want to excel in every area. I want to do well in swimming, and I also want to do well in academics, because that affects our team too.
— Compiled by Richard Thompson, photo courtesy of Caroline Green