Fifth-year senior Michael Baier of the UC San Diego swimming team has experienced the ups-and-downs of a typical collegiate athletic career. A two-time All-American who has served as team captain the past two seasons and is ranked in the UCSD career top 10 in both the 200 and 400 individual medley, Baier qualified for six individual events at the 2003 NCAA Division II Championships as a sophomore. His junior year was postponed due to shoulder surgery but he came back strong, again achieving All-American status with a pair of top six NCAA finishes, including a personal best of third in the 400 IM. He was also part of a school record-setting 800 freestyle relay team. “Michael’s an immensely talented athlete who’s realized his potential through hard work,” says Head Coach Scott McGihon. “He’s an extremely versatile swimmer that we could put in virtually any event.” Heading into the annual Speedo Cup, the biggest meet of the fall, the 22-year-old Sonora, CA native spent some time talking about his career and the 2005-06 season.
Q-Swimming’s not usually thought of as a sport where you see a lot of injuries, but you sat out an entire season after surgery. What happened?
BAIER-Actually, you do see a lot of repetition injuries in swimming, like tendonitis of the shoulder. They come from using the same motion hundreds and hundreds of times.
I hate to admit it, but I actually injured my shoulder playing flag football during the fall of my sophomore year. I dove for the ball and landed on my shoulder. My shoulder partially popped out and it tore the labrum. I iced a lot and finished off my sophomore season. When the pain didn’t go away in the off-season, my doctor recommended surgery. I expected to be ready for my junior year but I tried to come back too soon and ended up having to sit the year out.
Although most injuries come from the repetitive nature of training, some swimmers are known to be “land challenged” and you see some interesting injuries that occur during land workouts. We lift weights, do a lot of stadium stuff for explosiveness and have a medicine ball workout program.
Q-What’s the lure of swimming for you?
BAIER-It’s a sickness (laughing). Seriously, the feeling you get right before you step onto the blocks when you look around at your competition and have the confidence based on training that you can perform at a high level.
And then, when you hit the wall and see that you’ve attained the goals you’ve set for yourself—that makes the alarm and the wake up calls worth it. I do it for those feelings.
Q-One of your specialties is the individual medley. Why do you like it? Which of the four strokes is your easiest, most difficult?
BAIER-Most swimmers don’t like the IM. I actually do. I was afraid in my freshman year when Scott (McGihon) said he wanted to try me in that event because I’d never done it before.
I like it because everybody has their own strengths. For me, it’s the breaststroke which comes in the second half of the race. That’s where I feel I have to do it and I know that if I can keep it close during the butterfly and backstroke, I’m going to get some people on the third leg.
It’s fun to swim for the same reasons it’s also a great event to watch. There’s so much variety. Everyone has different strengths and there’s a lot of shifting positions during the course of the race, especially in the 400. It’s pretty common to see huge changes. The backstroke is probably my toughest leg.
Q-What’s a typical weekly workload for you?
BAIER-We usually put in about 50,000 yards a week in the water. Monday’s the worst day. We’re in at and swim about 8,000 yards. Then we go to the weight room and have a medicine ball workout. In the afternoon, there’s a second hard workout.
It usually tapers down from Monday with specific event workouts on different days. We have what we call “crazy IM workouts” on Tuesday. That can range from straight IM racing to concentrating specifically on one or two strokes for 30-40 minutes.
Q-Does a swimmer lose his or her “feeling” for the water if they’re out for a certain length of time?
BAIER-We used to joke that if you’ve been out a long time, even a week, you were “feeling alien.” When you get back in, it feels like something totally foreign. I don’t know if it has the same effect on non-swimmers but when you swim a lot, there’s definitely an adjustment period when you’ve been away.
Q-Is the swimming season one long grind or do you break it down into different segments?
BAIER-We do kind of break the season into at least two parts. The team reports in early September and we go hard pretty much through October. Then we go into a short rest period, which we’re in now, for our mid-season taper meet, the Speedo Cup.
After that, we have a bit of a break with Thanksgiving and finals. Then we hit it hard through Christmas. After Christmas, we come back to regular training through our conference championships in February and then start tapering again for the NCAA Championships in early March.
Q-What’s the significance of the Speedo Cup?
BAIER-The objective is to make your NCAA qualifying time (if you haven’t already) at the Speedo Cup. It’s not essential, but it’s nice to make the time early in the season because then you don’t have to taper twice—for conference and NCAAs—in a relatively short period of time. That’s tough to do. It also takes away the stress that comes with basically having one chance left to make the cut.
The Speedo Cup is also good because it’s the first time in the season that we’ll be rested which gives you a chance to see some results from the hard work. If you’re able to swim fast it’s a great motivator for the second half of the season.
Q-How do the men’s and women’s teams get along? Is it more like one big team or two separate units?
BAIER-The two teams are really one. We get along very well and we like to think our unity with the women makes us stronger vs. the teams we compete against.
A lot of the other schools have two teams that compete together but don’t travel and train together. What makes us strong is that everybody gets along and likes each other. Instead of having 20 people at the wall when you’re racing, there are 50 people behind the blocks supporting you. It makes a difference.
Q-What members of the 205-06 men’s swim team are ready for a “breakout year?”
BAIER-That’s tough. It’s a pretty long list. I’d say that one is definitely Joel Tourtellotte. He had a great freshman year but he’s swimming even better now.
Then there’s the seniors. You definitely see a difference in the work ethic when you hit the senior year. There’s something in your head when you know it’s your last season. For instance, I see a big difference in Ben Falcioni. He was solid last year, but he’s been amazing so far.
Also, I get a chance to train with the breaststrokers and as a group, Jacob (Dong), Evan (Hsiao) and Ryan (Kloos) are going to be tough. We’ve also got an extremely talented freshmen class and you can see good things already from them.
Q-You sister Katie was a freshman at UCSD last year. What’s it like having her on the team?
BAIER-I really enjoy it. We weren’t as close as I would have hoped in high school and I wasn’t sure I would like it at first—something about my space, my friends.
But, it’s been great. We’ve become better friends and I’m really glad she decided to come to UCSD. Unfortunately, she’s injured her shoulder and will probably redshirt this season.
BAIER-I think he does a great job of building and maintaining unity between the two teams and using that to our advantage. Everyone buys into that. Some coaches are good with men, some are good with women. Scott handles both teams very well.
There are also a lot of little things, details that are always taken into account. He also highlights expectations for people and pushes you to reach those goals. Scott won’t let you go below your potential.
Q-What sport would you be competing in if you weren’t swimming?
BAIER-I really miss playing soccer (he was an all-league soccer player in high school). I started at four and played year-round from ages 12-14 and all the way through high school.
Swimming is a team sport, but it’snot the same. I definitely like having a little bit of contact thrown in.
Q-Sonora is not exactly known as a swimming hotbed. How did you get started?
BAIER-My mom, Patti, was a swimmer and a pretty good one. She swam at the Senior Nationals in high school. The whole family swims. I don’t remember exactly how I got started but it probably involved her pushing us in. I’ve pretty much been doing it forever.
My mom is still a masters swim coach in Sonora. She runs a pretty big club for a small community.
Q-What would make collegiate swimming a better spectator sport?
BAIER-I don’t know if you can really help swimming. People don’t really know what’s going on.
The big meets are really exciting, though. Even if you don’t know what fast is, you can figure it out. Unfortunately, dual meets aren’t that exciting—but they’re necessary practice if you want to swim fast.
Q-What would make 2005-06 a success for you?
BAIER-I think it would be great for us to win our conference championships and improve on our placing at the NCAAs as a team (the Triton men finished fourth last year).
At the NCAAs, personally, I’d like to be top eight in all of my events. The maximum for one person is four individual events and three relays. I’d like to do that.
Q-What interests do you have outside swimming?
BAIER-We’re not allowed to have a life outside of swimming (laugh). Back home in the summer, I like to rock climb and go river rock jumping (going off cliffs into the water). I hope my mom isn’t going to read this.
I’ve got some pretty crazy friends who go out with measuring tapes looking for canyon walls over 100 ft. I just watch that but it’s still crazy.
I also like to watch movies and go to the beach.
Q-What’s your major and what are your future plans?
BAIER-I’m a general biology major. After I graduate, I hope to teach English in South America somewhere and then come back and go to business school. I don’t know if I’ll be using that major any time soon.
As far as the future, can I get back to you 10 years from now? I really have no idea.
Q-After two years as team captain, you relinquished those duties prior to the season. Why?
BAIER-I’d had that role for two years and just felt it was time for new blood. Our team is a lot younger and I felt that maybe we’d be better off with guys who could relate better to all elements of the team.
Jacob (Dong) and Barney (Sclafani) have the team really unified and are doing a great job. I’m glad I made the decision.