From being on the bubble for evening making the roster as a freshman, now junior Aubrey Panis has become a school record holder, All-American and respected upper classman on the UC San Diego Swimming and Diving team. The Anaheim native out of Villa Park High School specializes in the backstroke and freestyle sprint events and has already qualified for the NCAA Division II Championships, scheduled March 12-15, in Columbia, MO. “Aubrey’s obviously a talented swimmer, but she’s also become a quiet leader on our team,” says Head Coach Scott McGihon. “She’s a great example for our younger swimmers.” With the fall season now behind her, Panis took time to talk about her sport and the state of the Triton team.
Q—The biggest meet of the fall season was the Nike (formerly Speedo) Cup, held recently in Long Beach. What makes that event so important?
PANIS—Nike Cup is a big competition for us, because it’s our first major qualifying meet for NCAAs. We’re tapered and shaved for it, and so it’s the meet where most of the people who will go to NCAAs get their qualifying cuts.
Q—Were you satisfied with your performance at the Nike Cup? How would you rate the results for the UCSD men’s & women’s teams as a whole?
PANIS—I was very happy with how I swam at Nike Cup. For the teams as a whole, I think we did well with what we had. We were missing some of our key athletes, so we definitely missed out on some major points in the team competition.
Q—Have there been any individual swimmers who have really stepped up during the fall season that people should keep an eye on when the NCAA meet comes around?
PANIS—Anju Shimura has been doing really well and could definitely have a huge impact on NCAAs this year. We also have a solid group of returners to watch out for: Jenn Sims, Shannon Simonds, Kendall Bohn, Karla Holman, Dan Perdew, Todd Langland, Greg Goodell, J.P. Oliver, Steven Hardy, and Evan Hsiao all have experience competing at the national level and will be tough competitors at NCAAs.
Q—What type of training will the team be doing between now and your next competition in January?
PANIS—Hard training. After finals week, we start “hell week” (although its longer than a week, more like a month). Except for about a week during Christmas, we’re here for the entire winter break training about six hours per day.
Q—What is the toughest part about being a collegiate swimmer?
PANIS—The toughest part is balancing academics with athletics. In the midst of a 20-hour per week commitment to swimming, it’s easy to forget that academics come first. Having eight-to-nine practices per week takes its toll on you both mentally and physically, but you’ve got to find a way to have enough energy to maintain a full academic schedule. It’s tough.
Q—Most people view swimming as an individual sport. How important do you think the team aspect is and how does it manifest itself?
PANIS—The team aspect is incredibly important. Swimming requires such an intense level of training and dedication that it would be almost impossible to do on your own. Knowing that everyone else is going through the same thing you are really pushes you to keep going and make it all the way through the season.
In Triton swimming, the closeness of the team is definitely obvious. At swim meets, we always have so much energy when it comes to cheering for our teammates, especially during relays. Even off the deck, we spend a lot of time with each other.
Q—You swim several different events. Which is your favorite and which is the most difficult for you? Why?
PANIS—My favorite event is the 100 free, because I love diving in and being able to just be aggressive and race. The most difficult event for me is either the 50 free or the 200 free. The 50 is difficult, because there is zero room for error, and I tend to get too caught up in a lot of the mechanics of the race. The 200 is also tough for me, because I know I need to hold back in the beginning of the race in order to save energy for the back half of it, but I always want to take it out really fast. Especially when I swim the 200 in the 800 free relay, I find it really hard to hold back and contain my excitement.
Q—Given that each swimmer is in his or her own lane, is there any strategy involved in a typical race?
PANIS—Each race definitely has its own strategy, and it depends on the length of the race and the stroke. One of the most important parts of race strategy is being able to swim your own race, and not let your competition dictate how you’re going to swim it.
Q—When does a swimmer feel the most pressure?
PANIS—Swimmers feel pressure up until right before the race at competitions. As soon as I walk on to the pool deck, I start getting nervous. A huge part of swimming is being able to control the nerves and to not let them psyche you out. Once the race starts, though, it’s easy to just let go and swim.
Q—When you’re in the pool, can you actually see or hear anything your teammates or coaches are doing on the deck? Does it have any effect?
PANIS—For me, personally, I don’t notice anything that goes on outside of the pool when I’m racing. I’m too focused on what I’m doing. However, knowing that people are there behind your lane supporting you can give you a huge confidence booster before your race.
Q—When did you start swimming? What’s made you stick with it so long?
PANIS—I started swimming when I was 11 years old, so I’m going on 10 years now. I’ve done it for that long, because I enjoy it and constantly want to improve and get faster. It’s a lot of hard work, but I love the feeling of knowing that all of that work has paid off. Whether that means swimming a lifetime best in a race or just completing a tough set in a practice, it’s so satisfying to know that all the pain, tiredness, and soreness has helped me accomplish something.
Q—What is the difference between high school or club swimming and being on a college team?
PANIS—The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that collegiate swimming is much more team-oriented. When I go out and race, I want to do well, because I want people to know how dynamic Triton swimming is. Competition is so much more fun when everyone is unified as a team rather than when everyone is just racing for themselves.
Q—What is your major and what do you hope to do with it?
PANIS—I’m an International Studies major. I really enjoy it, but I have no idea what I want to do with it at this point in my life.
Q—What are three things you’d like to do before you graduate?
PANIS—1. Study abroad 2. Get one of the divers to teach me how to dive. (I used to be a gymnast, so I’ve always been curious about what I’m capable of doing on the dive boards.) 3. Go skydiving.