Junior team captain breaks school, NCAA records
While preparing Emily Mason for the 2003-2004 season, Arizona women's swim and dive head coach Frank Busch had an important piece of advice for one of his top swimmers: Think negative.
"Definitely, it's the negative split training that has made a huge difference this year - just doing four 100s, time after time, getting faster with each 100 so I don't die at the end of my race," Mason says.
Mason is hunched near the front door of the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center. Practice has just convened, and the assistant coaches are running the freshman teams through their drills.
Mason, looking through lively blue eyes, keeps talking.
"Frank uses this analogy where he takes this cup of water and he pours it all out. He says, 'Emily, this is what you do with your energy at the beginning of a race. We want you to do this,' and he pours it out slowly," Mason describes.
"Frank has a whole bunch of big, crazy analogies."
Crazy could be an apt description for Mason's performance over the last five weeks of the swim and dive season. After closing the regular season with three first-place performances against Arizona State, Mason set an NCAA record in the 400-meter freestyle on the first day of the NCAA Championships with a time of 4:01.58.
Two days later, the junior broke school records in two butterfly events and one individual medley event to spur the No. 6 Wildcats to a third-place overall finish.
Not bad for a first-year team captain.
"I put a great deal of pressure on myself," says Mason, a journalism junior. "You want to do well for everybody. Your whole team's there on the sidelines, screaming for you. Your parents are there, with their banners and posters, screaming up the stands. You give your best effort not so much even for yourself, but because you know everybody else is there and they're counting on you."
Even so, Busch says he was pleased with Emily's output at the tournament.
"I had always hoped for her to achieve a national championship in an individual event, and she did that this year," he said. "I was surprised, and I think Emily was a little surprised, by the way things worked out."
By and large, things have worked out for the Tucson-born Mason since her arrival at the UA in 2001. But for Mason, now a two-time All-Academic Honorable Mention, keeping everything in check hasn't always been easy.
"I'm more of a swimmer before I'm a scholar," she says. "But school's really important to me. It's hard to find a balance, sometimes. You have a lot of kids who will come in and say, 'I've got to go do schoolwork,' and I'm saying, 'Well, I have to go swim, too.'"
For Mason, who plans to participate in Olympic-qualifier events this summer, negative thinking should continue to come in handy.
"She (has) surprised herself by doing over and above what she thought she was capable of doing," Busch said. "When you work hard and pay attention as Emily does, chances are you're going to have some pretty good results."