Speaking of Sports: Winning Two Places at Onceby Brent Harris
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Little Giants Coach Steve Barnes tells his swimmers that if they’re confident, they’ll succeed no matter where they compete. But, Adam Current did Barnes one better…
A dominating third-place finish by the Little Giants at the NCAC Championships in February behind two national power-houses may have been the highlight of the Wabash swim team’s season, but its defining moment came in October when senior Adam Current swam against DePauw.
Little Giants Coach Steve Barnes tells his swimmers that if they’re confident, they’ll succeed no matter where they compete. But Current did Barnes one better—he succeeded in two places at once.
One of the team’s top butterfly and backstrokers and the only tuba player on campus, Current tells the story in the team’s Lanelines blog:
“Out of breath, sweating, my heart racing, I sprinted across our dimly lit campus from the Fine Arts Center to the natatorium still dressed in a suit and tie with my swim meet suit underneath. I was attempting the impossible—performing in the Brass Ensemble Concert and competing against our arch rivals in the same hour-and-a-half.
“The question was: Could I fulfill my commitment to my two most important teams at the same time?”
Current not only played the full program with his ensemble, he also finished with his then season best time.
“I believe the swim affirms two things,” Current writes. “Being in two places at once isn’t easy, but it is intensely rewarding. And second—Wabash always fights!”
The swim also exemplifies a group of seniors who earned success regardless of their frequently changing circumstances. Current, Evan Rhinesmith, David Birrer, Chad Woods, Eric Vaughn, and William Cheng swam for two different coaches during their four years at Wabash. And they were recruited by former Coach Peter Casares, who left for Bates College before the new swimmers arrived on campus for their freshman year. John Weitz took over the program for two seasons. Then Steve Barnes, a successful assistant coach at Kalamazoo, came in when these swimmers were juniors.
Changes in coaches never changed the swimmers’ goals.
“I had three swimming coaches and four band directors in high school, so I was used to turnover,” Current says. “Ultimately you have to have faith that what your new coach has to say will work. The long-term goals and the end results have been key for us. We’ve always tried to keep in mind where we want that very last swim of our college careers to be: at nationals.”
“No matter what situation we were in, we just knew we had to work hard as a group,” Rhinesmith adds. “You have to swim fast no matter who you’re swimming for. We’ve all gone through coaching changes before in our careers—it’s inevitable if you start when you’re five or six years old. You just have to understand what it takes to stay motivated and be able to adapt to new situations.”
“We are fortunate that our group of seniors has been highly motivated from the time we arrived on campus,” Vaughn says. “Our coaches have been on board with our goals, and they’ve helped us reach them. I actually considered Denison and Kenyon when making my college choice. I really wanted to go to Wabash to be the underdog and fight our way to the top. I take pride when any of us earns all-conference honors, that we’ve done it by competing against the best, achieving one of our goals.”
Last season Birrer, Current, Rhinesmith, and Vaughn each posted qualifying times fast enough to earn a chance to compete at the NCAA Nationals. Only Birrer and Rhinesmith received the invitations to participate, but both just missed advancing to the finals to earn All-America honors.
Earning a taste of the national spotlight as juniors provided a renewed energy for the entire group heading into their final college season.
“I’ve battled through injuries and illnesses throughout my career,” says Vaughn. “That caused me to take swimming too seriously. I got too wrapped up in every little piece of competing and didn’t see the big picture. Qualifying for nationals made me realize I had been successful. I realized I was really close to achieving the goals and so were my teammates. It gave me a chance to relax and have fun—to enjoy swimming again.”
Enjoying their sport while keeping their eyes fixed on their goals brought results at this year’s NCAC Championships. On the first day of competition, Rhinesmith broke the 12-year-old Wabash record in the 200 individual medley. Twenty-four hours later he became the first Little Giant swimmer to win a solo conference championship event since Logan Falley ’05 tied for first in the 100 breaststroke in 2005.
Vaughn, Current, and Charles Williams ’14 joined Rhinesmith for the 400-yard medley relay All-Conference performance.
Birrer added a second individual title, winning the 200 butterfly to help Wabash take third place in the final team standings behind Kenyon and Denison, and both Rhinesmith and Birrer qualified for the national championships.
Coach Barnes says he knew the team’s potential from the moment he stepped on campus. The success in the pool—and in the classroom, where the team ranked 13th among all Division III programs with a fall semester grade point average of 3.29—is what he has seen every day from his team.
“This group of seniors developed a strategy not just for each race or meet, but for the season and for the two-year span I’ve served as their coach. Their approach has never just been ‘what are we going to do right now?’ That’s allowed them to meet their career goals, and that’s something that is really hard to think about halfway through your college career. Buying into that philosophy is really impressive. It’s hard to do at such a young age.”
Vaughn sees an even more rewarding goal realized in his four years swimming at Wabash.
“I’ve met tremendous people and learned so much through swimming. That’s even more important than the titles or times or finishes. Regardless of your other accomplishments, that’s the real goal.”
And that may be the deeper secret to success for this group of seniors who have learned not only how to win in two places, but in many ways, at once.