The 2012 season, his first at UC San Diego, was a solid, if somewhat less than ideal experience for current Triton sophomore Dane Stassi. He qualified for the NCAA Division II Swimming & Diving Championships but lost a significant amount of training time in the lead up due to illness and ended up finishing fifth in the 200 butterfly and 13th in the 100 butterfly. This season has been relatively smooth sailing for the 6-4 sophomore from Irvine and that's reflected in his results from last week's 2013 NCAA Championships in Birmingham, AL. Stassi won the 200 butterfly in school record time of 1:45.12 and was seventh in the 100 fly at 48.27. In the aftermath of the national meet, where the Triton men finished seventh and the women third, Stassi spent time talking about the high intensity atmosphere of the NCAA Championships, personal observations from the meet and what lies ahead.
Q-Do you think the average sports fan has a sense of the type of pressure competitors at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships face? What makes that event unique from a pressure perspective?
STASSI- As far as pressure goes I think it differs for everyone. I had a conversation with my fellow teammate Nick Korth a week or two before we left and we talked about how a lot of people are just happy to qualify for NCAA's where Nick and I were in a position where we were expected to win or place very well in our events. So there is definitely pressure in that sense but at the same time you're the top seed in the country for a reason, so it doesn't become too overwhelming.
In general, though, everything a collegiate swimmer does throughout the whole year is based on qualifying and swimming your best at the NCAA Championships. People actually call it "The Meet," which helps explain why there's so much strain on virtually every competitor.
Q-As the top qualifier and top seed coming out of the prelims, what kind of pressure did you feel leading up to the finals of the 200 butterfly in Birmingham? How did you deal with it?
STASSI- I didn't really feel too much pressure I just wanted to get my finals swim over with to be honest. I was ahead by over a second going into finals so I wasn't too worried. I knew some guys were planning on swimming faster at night but at the same time so was I.
Q-Describe that race. What was the key to victory? What were your feelings as you were celebrating in the pool, post-race?
STASSI- I've swam who knows how many 200 butterflys this year so to me it was just another 200 fly. As far as victory goes it's swimming it smart. A few guys in the final took it out way too fast and then died off. It is not a quick race, you have to know how to pace it. I was happy as hell when I touched watching my team, the coaches, the parents, and the alumni all go crazy was a pretty cool feeling.
Q-In a sport where training is essential and nearly year-round, where do you draw your motivation? How difficult is it to maintain that level of work over that period of time?
STASSI- I love the sport, I've been doing it since I was four so it's all I've ever known. It can be hard at times to train but at the same time you have 26 other guys who are training with you, guys you can fall back on, guys that are experiencing the same stuff you are.
Q-So, was it all worth it when you hit the wall first in Alabama?
STASSI- Well, a win is incredible but there are so many other things that make it worth it. Some of my best friendships have come from this sport. I know it's pretty cheesy but honestly sports in general, not just swimming, I think teach you way more than just a classroom ever could. While the win is nice there are many other factors out there that make it worthwhile.
Q-It may be a bit early for this, but what's in the future for you as far as swimming? What's the next mountain for you individually and the team collectively to climb?
STASSI- I have World Trials in June in Indianapolis, so I hope to swim fast there. As far as the team goes we have Speedo Grand Challenge in May. Other than that it's a brief period of rest until we hit the grind again.
As a team, the men didn't do as well as we'd expected and when we were watching the women accept their third place trophy, one of my teammates, Alex Merrill, said, "we're not going to be standing here next year, we're going to be back up on that podium," which I think speaks for all of us.
Personally, I've won the 200 fly so I'll be looking to improve my standing in my other events, the 100 fly as well as the 50 and 100 free.
Q-At an NCAA Championship event, is it all business or is there an opportunity for outside activities? What were your impressions of Birmingham?
STASSI- We showed up on Sunday the competition started on Wednesday so we got to see quite a bit of Birmingham. The people were incredibly nice. It's hard to beat Southern hospitality.
Q-One of the most exciting races at this year's Championships was the 200 breaststroke in which your teammate, Nick Korth, the 2011 champion, came within 16/100ths of a second of running down Grand Canyon's Eetu Karvonen in a photo finish. Were you able to watch that race? How would you describe it?
STASSI- I watched it, hands down my favorite race of the entire meet. Nick works crazy hard and does so much more outside the pool to better himself as an athlete. Eetu looked in control for the first half and then Nick just turned it on and started to run him down. You know he didn't place first but he shattered the NCAA record and his time ranks incredibly high in Division I, far higher than my 200 fly time does. Nick should be incredibly proud of what he did. He didn't get the win but like I said before there is so much more than just a win.
Q-From your perspective, what were some other notable Triton NCAA moments in 2013?
STASSI- My second favorite event was Anji Shakya's 200 free was really fun to watch. She won an NCAA title which was great and it was a really close race. The girl from Drury was pushing her to the finish. (Teammate) Olivia Fountain and I were jumping up and down in the warm-up pool and getting so loud that the television cameras were turned on us.
Q-What separates UCSD Swimming & Diving from other top programs in the country?
STASSI- Well, we are really close with our divers and our dive coach which from what I hear is not the norm. We also train together meaning guys and girls, which creates an amazing family atmosphere.
Q-You have a fairly unique pre-race routine. What does it consist of and how did it develop?
STASSI- I slap the living hell out of myself. I try to cause as much physical pain as possible, it really triggers that fight or flight response and floods adrenaline throughout my body. I honestly don't remember how it started but I've been doing for quite a while now.
Q-What are your first recollections of swimming? What made you gravitate to it as a competitor and what keeps you going?
STASSI-I still remember learning how to swim with floaties around my arms. I absolutely love the water. If I'm not swimming then I'm likely at the beach. Too many reasons to name as to -why I've stuck with it.
Q-What is the most significant thing that your coaching staff brings to our performance?
STASSI- Their passion is pretty unreal. Each coach loves the sport almost more than we do. Even on minor sets during practice you will catch Coach (Matt) Macedo yelling or cheering you on.
Q-The 200 butterfly is considered one of swimming's toughest events? Is there one event that even you would not want to swim?
STASSI- I hate the 200 backstroke. It's something I used to swim and I hated it so much. It makes your quads burn worse than any other physical activity. Also the mile it's a 15-minute race, no thank you.
Q-On the atypical day when you have no practice or classes, what's likely to be on your agenda?
STASSI- Sleep in and probably waste half the day. Eat and then eat some more. Then I usually do errands like grocery shop, laundry or catch up on studying.
Q-Speaking of classes, what have been a couple of your favorites at UCSD?
STASSI- Anyone who has had Dr. G (Galderisi) for a Poli Sci class knows how awesome he is. Hendrickson is pretty cool for History too.
Q-You've listed body surfing as one of your favorite hobbies. What's the best body surfing beach in San Diego? Orange County?
STASSI- From what I've heard Birdrock is really good in SD for body surfing I usually go to Scripps. In Orange County, definitely Irvine Cove.
Q-You're a political science major with designs on law school. What do you hope to be doing 10 years from now?
STASSI- Not really too sure yet! Probably working for a law firm.
Q-When you're finished swimming at UCSD, what do you hope you'll be remembered for?STASSI- My god-awful puns that I tell every day. On a more serious note if people hear my name and it carries a positive connotation, that's all I could ask for.
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