MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - When Danielle Smith was deciding on a college she was looking for something different. She was eager to experience something new and wanted to venture away from home in Delray Beach, Fla., to find it.
In choosing WVU, she knew that change was inevitable. The most obvious difference for her was the weather.
“I went from being at the beach everyday where it was sunny with palm trees, to Morgantown with mountains and it was the first time I had seen snow,” Smith said.
The other changes that took place over time were not as easily predictable.
In her freshman season at WVU, Smith’s talent combined with a more intense training program really helped her swimming skills shine through.
“I thought I really struggled with it my first semester freshman year because it was so different than what I was used to. It is a lot more intense than club swimming.”
The demanding amount of training did not scare Smith away, though. She welcomed it and came to enjoy it more than her old routine.
“I really like training,” Smith added. “It was a lot harder coming from club swimming to transition into college swimming. I think training with a team who is on the same page is a lot more beneficial and fun than training with people who have different goals like you find on club swimming.”
The team’s sense of unity is very important to Smith; it was actually her deciding factor on where to go to school.
“When I came here on my recruiting trip, I felt so welcomed by everyone and they were so nice and wanted to get me to love it as much as they loved it,” she said. “I could see how much everyone really liked being here.”
After her first semester, Smith became comfortable and more familiar with her team and the swim program. Her teammates helped make the transition a smooth process for the talented sophomore.
“I felt more connected with the team and didn’t have that awkward ‘I’m new here’ feeling. I would say after the first semester, you start to feel more comfortable with everything,” Smith explained.
She swam all four years at Boca Raton High School and was a state qualifier in each of those years. She led her team as captain one year, twice in 2007 and 2008 she went to state swim championships, and in 2009, she was named the most outstanding female swimmer at the Palm Beach County championship. She received MVP Honors in 2010 and that same year, she was named the girls swimmer of the year for the second year in a row in Palm Beach County.
After only three semesters at WVU, Smith is among the top three BIG EAST swimmers in both backstroke events and is a strong contender to qualify for NCAA nationals as a member of the 200 medley, 400 medley and 800 free relays. The Mountaineers currently have the nation's 24th fastest time in the 800 free relay and the 35th best clocking in the 400 medley relay. She said that she had never envisioned herself excelling at this fast pace, especially as a sophomore.
“Last year, I was just surprised that I had received the times I did; I had no idea that this is the position I’d be in for this year. It makes me nervous, but at the same time it is pretty exciting.”
In Smith’s case, it’s turned out that change is a good thing. On the possibility of going to the NCAAs, Smith implied that it was more of a dream than anything.
“It was something I always thought would be cool if it did happen, but I never really got to that point until now when I really have to consider it,” she admitted.
Going into the championship season the pressure is definitely on. Smith said that she hates swimming under pressure, but that she swims best that way. She thinks the team, as a whole, will perform better this time around because of the increased number of people on the roster and the training they have all put into this swim season.
As far as goals go, Smith has high hopes for her team, as well as her own individual ambitions.
“Last year, I didn’t make any ‘A’ finals, so I would like to make ‘A’ finals in individual races and hopefully keep my top 3 placing,” Smith said “Also, as far as the 800 free relay, it would be really cool if we made it to the NCAAs with that because I know we all think we have a shot with it. It would be awesome if we could get into the two two spot in the BIG EAST.”
Smith finds motivation in past performances. When her finish times are better than she expects, she sees that as a reason to keep pushing harder in every race.
“I saw the work I did last year pay off and that makes me want to try that much harder for this year and years to come,” she reasoned.
Another source of motivation is her teammates. The team works together in applauding each other for their accomplishments and pushes one another to higher levels.
“I usually think about my team when I’m behind the blocks and can see them cheering me on,” she concluded. “You don’t want to let them down; you want to do the best you can because you’re swimming for something bigger than yourself.”
Danielle Smith, West Virginia University Mountaineers, WVU, NCAA swimming and diving
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