New Trier, which is heavily favored to win its third consecutive state championship this weekend at Evanston, is stacked with experienced swimmers.
But only one current Trevian has been through the pressure and prestige of swimming at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Senior Riley Hayward competed in the 100-meter breaststroke at the Trials in Omaha in June and has shared what she learned with all of her teammates.
“It was really nerve-wracking, but it was an amazing experience,” Hayward said. “It was crazy walking out because they don’t have anybody on deck – it’s only you in the heat. So you walk out on deck and everybody is sitting in the stands. It’s the craziest experience ever.
Hayward did not advance from her preliminary heat – only the top 16 out of nearly 100 swimmers qualify for the semifinals – but the experience gave her a new perspective on dealing with pressure.
“It was the closest thing to high school state,” Hayward said. “That’s the only thing you can compare it to in Illinois.
“I’ve learned to relax more for my events and enjoy the crowd and all the adrenaline that comes with it. State is a crazy meet. [The natatorium] fills up in a second and there’s not one seat open. Everyone is on deck, it’s totally crammed and there’s so much energy here, but it gets so quiet at the beginning of [each race].”
It is in those moments where mental tenacity, or lack of it, can separate the champions from the merely good. Hayward has come to realize that during a career that has seen her win two team state titles but come up just short of her goal of winning an individual crown.
Two years ago, Hayward finished second in the 100-yard breaststroke and helped the Trevians to a runner-up finish in the 200 medley relay. New Trier took second again in the relay last season, with Hayward finishing eighth in the breaststroke and the 200 individual medley.
This time, Hayward is seeded third in the breaststroke and will also swim on the third-ranked medley relay.
“I would [like to win],” Hayward said. “I’ve come close but I’ve never made it, so I do think it’s kind of about time. Hopefully that happens and of course the whole team is working for our 13th state championship.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of two so far and it’s exciting. I’m proud of all my younger kids who have stepped up. We didn’t think as many people would step up as they did, so I’m really happy about that.”
New Trier coach Mac Guy thinks that the USC-bound Hayward will play a big role this in and out of the water.
“I think her Olympic Trials experience over the summer has really given her some good perspective on the sport and she has improved at not just her technical stroke, but just her mental approach to the sport,” Guy said. “It has had a huge impact on not only her but the rest of the team as well. Her breaststroke looks great and she’s relaxed and ready to swim fast.”
Fellow co-captain Stephanie Marchuk swam on the Trevians’ state champion 400 freestyle relay squad in 2010 and was state runner-up in the 200 free and 500 free last season. She, too, said the Trevians look to Hayward to set the tone.
“It’s definitely great having someone with so much experience who can definitely handle the pressure of the meet and can really set an example of how to handle that,” Marchuk said. “Riley has been going really fast this season so I know it’s going to be a really fun state meet for her and the team.”