The school record holder in every freestyle event from 200 to 1,650 yds. as well as a part of UCSD’s all-time best 400 and 800 yd. freestyle relay teams, senior Sophie Levy has earned All-American status 14 times while leading the Triton women to three consecutive third place finishes at the NCAA Division II Championships. The talented Oakland native will be shooting for another career milestone, an NCAA individual title, when she and 18 teammates travel to Indianapolis (IN) for the 2006 NCAA Division II Championship. Levy will be a threat to win the 200, 500, 1,000 and 1,650 freestyles in Indy but it won’t take NCAA gold to gain UCSD Head Coach Scott McGihon’s admiration. “Sophie has far surpassed any of my expectations, both in training and in competition,” says McGihon. “She consistently trains at an extremely high level which is why she’s a dominant swimmer at the D-II level. And more importantly, she’s a genuinely nice person.” On the eve of her final NCAA Championship meet, the 22-year-old Levy took time to reflect on her career, her sport and what’s ahead.
Q-Does it seem like your four years have gone by quickly?
LEVY—I can’t believe I only have a few weeks left. When you’re in it, it seems to go by slowly, but when it’s over, every year, you say to yourself, “wow, that went fast.” The last four years have definitely gone quickly.
Q-What’s been the most gratifying part of your collegiate swimming career?
LEVY—Well, I haven’t finished my four years yet. But, I think just completing four years of swimming is worth a lot. It’s such hard work. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d make it this far. I’m very pleased that I did.
Balancing school and swimming, the long hours of practicing, you’re tired all the time. I didn’t know if I had it in me for four years. It’s quite an accomplishment. I’m glad I was able to do it, glad I had the opportunity.
Q-How would you describe the perfect NCAA Championship meet?
LEVY—Really, I just want to have fun. I’d love to get my best times and finish my career on a positive note.
Of course, I’d love to place high but I would be just as happy if I swam well, got my best times and finished last.
Q-Which of your events is your favorite? Least favorite?
LEVY—I’d have to say my favorite is the 500. You don’t have to sprint the whole way, but it’s short enough that you really have to know the race strategy. It’s a distance event but goes by pretty fast. I feel it fits my strengths the best.
Of course, the mile (1,650) might be my least favorite. It’s just long. I’m not that big a fan of the 200 either. It’s in-between sprint and distance—it’s hard to swim that one correctly. If you go out too fast, you can die coming home, but if you go out too slow it can be frustrating to finish with energy left.
Q-You have one of the smoothest strokes on the team. To what do you attribute that?
LEVY—I’ve been swimming since I was really young and doing it competitively since I was nine. I had some very good coaches when I was young, especially in high school. You develop your stroke early on, so I was very fortunate.
It’s hard to get better with your times without a good stroke. I was surprised when I got to college to find that everyone didn’t have that foundation.
Q-Who is a teammate you’ve admired during your years at UCSD?
LEVY—I think when I was a freshman, Mido (Jennifer Watanabe) was such an all-star swimmer. She swam everything and swam everything so fast. I always thought I’d love to be like her and have people look at me the way they looked at her. She was very talented, worked hard and was an all-around great person.
Q-You’ve been able to get through your career relatively injury-free. Any secrets?
LEVY—I’m not sure, I guess I’ve been lucky. It might have something to do with my stroke. I’ve been consistent with it and sometimes when you get tired, if you alter your stroke, that’s when injuries can happen.
I’m really grateful that I’ve never had to deal with injuries. Having to be out of the pool and away from the team is hard.
Q-Can you tell early in a race if you’re going to do well?
LEVY—Yeah, I guess so. Maybe not right away, but you’ll get tired quickly when it’s not going well.
Your best races are when you’re going fast but are also relaxed. It doesn’t seem like you’re having to work that hard. Sometimes, to stay on the pace you’re aiming for, you have to go out a little hard and that can come back to get you.
I can usually tell by the way I feel if I’m going to swim a fast time. On the other hand, there are occasionally times, like this year’s conference meet, when I didn’t feel that good but still swim well. I looked at the clock after the races at conference and was real shocked.
Q-How has it been training at the new Canyonview Pool?
LEVY—It’s been nice, but it’s only our second week. The first week the water was too cold but it’s a lot warmer now. It’s a great facility.
We all have our own lanes and the new locker rooms are so nice. We really like that.
Q-What makes the NCAA Championship harder than the average meet? Easier?
LEVY—The pressure definitely makes it more difficult. It’s always the last big meet of the year and you want to swim well. The atmosphere’s also a lot different. If you make the finals, you have to be in the “ready room” right before the race. Sitting there with all of your opponents can be intimidating. I’d prefer to go straight from the warm-up pool to the blocks.
On the other side, it’s more exciting and more fun because it’s such a big meet. You’ve had to qualify and it’s kind of like a reward for having worked hard to be able to go. Also, we typically have to fly to the meet, we’re away from home and in a totally different place. It’s a whole different feeling.
Q-Do you have any pre-race rituals?
LEVY—No, besides just warming up (laugh). Sometimes I listen to music, but not always. I just go in trying to have fun.
Q-What role have your parents played in your swimming?
LEVY—A huge role. Ever since I was little, my mom drove me to practice and they always came to all my meets. And they truly liked being there, not just because of me but to watch all the races.
When I came to UCSD, they always try to be at all the big meets. I like to make them proud. I’ve come to realize how lucky I am, to always have them behind me.
Q-If you weren’t a swimmer, what sport might you try?
LEVY—I’ve always thought that water polo was neat to watch. I don’t know the game that well, but like the water. I’m not sure about the contact though.
Maybe a more solitary sport, like running might be something I could do well.
Q-What do you do in your free time?
LEVY—Just hang out, relax. During the season, I’m usually pretty tired, so I don’t do much. When swimming is over, I’ll probably go to the beach a lot more—enjoy the perks of San Diego.
Next quarter, my goal is to hopefully try something else, maybe get into running and see how that goes. Doing a triathlon or marathon might be something to work towards. It’s going to be weird not having to be at the pool for practice.
Q-You’re a biology major. What do you hope to do with that?
LEVY—I’m not sure. I think once I graduate, I’ll take a little time off. I want to go to graduate school but I’m not sure which direction I’ll go. I’ll just have to see what my options are.