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NCAA champions share swimming success

KEVIN B. KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
From left: Senior Emily Mason and juniors Simon Burnett and Marshi Smith each won a national title at the NCAA Championship last month.
By Allison Hamila
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
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Having an NCAA-champion athlete is invaluable to a collegiate swim program. It adds to the prestige of the team, while enticing possible top-notch recruits and setting the bar for everyone on the squad.

The Arizona swim team racked up three individual titles last month by juniors Simon Burnett and Marshi Smith and senior Emily Mason.

Those three continued the long history of the Arizona swim team capturing NCAA titles.

Burnett took the individual title in the 200-yard freestyle last month with a time of 1:33.28 and currently holds the record in the event.

Smith won the individual title in the 100y backstroke with a time of 52.82, which is also a school record.

Finally, Mason took the crown in the 500y freestyle for the second year in a row in 4:37.11, which is her personal best in the event.

But the statistics only go so far.

What does it really take to be an NCAA champion?

Being an NCAA champion is not just about a time; it's about an attitude and a heart, as these three athletes demonstrate.

Both Mason and Burnett thought that they were capable of winning their titles, but Marshi added a big "hell no" to the question of if she planned this from the beginning of the season.

"I wanted to defend my title, but I try not to expect things and just give my best effort," Mason said.

Burnett said that he knew he was capable of being NCAA champion, after setting the record earlier in the season in the event, despite being plagued by illness for part of the season. He said he thought if everything came together right he was capable of taking the title.

All three swimmers agreed that being an NCAA champion does improve the confidence of a swimmer.

"It's given me a lot of confidence, makes me more confident in my swimming which will help in future races," Smith said.

Mason added that in addition to the confidence boost, it's just fun to win a title and compete with the best in the world.

"It's not just the winning; it's everything leading up to it, you are finally getting the recognition by showing everyone that you are that good," Burnett said about being a champion.

Burnett added that besides "God-given talent," the support of the team and coaches also contributed to his success.

Smith said that some people are just naturally good at a stroke and she credits hard work.

Surprisingly, all three swimmers agreed that their favorite events were different from their national titles.

Mason still enjoys the 200y butterfly best, while Smith said that the 100y back is her favorite. Burnett said that his favorite stroke is the one he does best in at every meet.

Smith said she had the advantage of flying under the radar.

"I came out of nowhere for a lot of people. I wasn't feeling overconfident. I was swimming against a lot of swimmers who had beaten me before. I just had to tell myself that this year was different, that on this day I was better," Smith said.

Burnett said that he felt pretty confident going into the race because he is the record holder, and he knew that he was the one to beat.

Staying focused through the long season is a struggle all three swimmers have to face.

"Personally, it's difficult for me during the hard training phase, but there is so much support here you can't give up and have to stay in the game," Burnett said.

Smith said she tries to take her swimming one practice at a time so that she is not so overwhelmed. She added that during workouts she likes to focus on people she wants to beat.

Mason uses the workouts and the length of the season to set short-term goals for herself and to improve every day. She said that she gives her best at every workout.

All three are unselfish regarding their titles and agreed that they would give up their individual awards in a second for a team championship. Burnett said that he would sacrifice going to the meet altogether for a team title.

"I think everybody wants to improve on what they've done, but (Arizona head coach) Frank (Busch) says that you can't live off the past - that you always need to move on and forward in the right direction, improving your times and races," Burnett said.

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