Even on a roster bursting with talented performers, UC San Diego senior Susan Bell stands out. The senior out of La Jolla High School has been a multiple All-American in each of her first three years, was selected Swimmer of the Year at the 2006 Pacific Coast Swim Conference Championship, is listed among the top ten all-time at UCSD in no less than six individual events and is part of two school record relay teams. Most potent in the individual medley and backstroke, Bell will be counted on heavily when the Tritons attempt to better last year’s third place finish at the NCAA Division II Championships. “No one gets more out of their talent than Susan does,” says Head Coach Scott McGihon. “Others respect her for what she’s done and how hard she works.” With the beginning of the run-up to March’s national meet, Bell took time to talk about her accomplishments and goals for the last three months of her UCSD career.
Q—The UCSD women’s team has been third nationally five times in the past six years. What will it take to break into the top two in 2007?
BELL—Relays. Relays score major points and also get the team energy going. Our team thrives on relays, including those not actually swimming on the relays. Other than relays, preliminary swims are crucial because it gets you back at night and guarantees a certain number of points.
Q—What do you consider the strengths of this year’s women’s team?
BELL—Our team is a lot more well-rounded than previous years. We have several people in every event, as well as several people who specialize in multiple events.
Q—Do you feel any pressure given the tremendous success of UCSD teams over the years?
BELL—It’s not so much pressure as support. We have a great alumni group that shows up at meets to support the team, especially at the NCAA meet. The team has progressed so much over the years and both past and present swimmers want to see it succeed.
Q—You may be the most versatile swimmer on the team. What are the positives and negatives of competing in so many events?
BELL—Swimming so many events helps take some of the pressure off of each race since you’re not “putting all your eggs in one basket,” so to speak. You never get bored with training one stroke, but at the same time, it’s also hard to make sure you train enough of each stroke. Also, as I learned freshman year, it can be hard to decide which events to swim when you are only allowed a certain number.
Q—Which event is the most difficult for you?
BELL—Anyone who knows me knows that I have a love-hate relationship with the 400 IM, but I think it may be a toss-up between that and the 800 free relay. The 200 free is such a hard event to swim well since it is somewhere between a sprint and a distance event and when you add the extra pressure of it being a relay, it’s hard to hold back at the beginning of the race.
Q—Can you take us through some of the mental exercises involved in swimming one of the individual medley events?
BELL—The two individual medley races are so very different. The 200 is more of a sprint and you just kind of go. The 400, however, takes a little more strategy. It’s different for everyone, depending on their strengths and weaknesses, but for me, one key is staying smooth during the butterfly so that I can push my other three strokes. Knowing your competition also helps (at least for me) so that you have an idea of how they are going to swim it.
Q—Swimming has one of the longest seasons of any sport yet success is often times defined by a few races that take no more than a couple of minutes. What is that like and what type of mental toughness is required to be successful as a swimmer?
BELL—Growing up, most swimmers compete in a year-round program, so it was more of a change coming to college where you have six months off. I don’t remember a time when I’ve been out of the water for more than two months (even when I tried).
I’m a believer of the old saying “success is journey, not a destination” so I wouldn’t say that it is defined with a few races. Knowing that you’ve put in so much work for such a long season allows you to go into those few races with confidence, but I would not say that the outcome defines how successful the season is.
Q—You were part of the 2005 UCSD 400 medley relay team that won the NCAA Championship. What do you remember about that race and what were your feelings following it?
BELL—Honestly, I don’t remember a whole lot about the actual race. I remember being the underdog and not being expected to win, but at the time it seemed like any other race and it wasn’t until the last 50 that I noticed what was going on. After the race was also a blur of hugs and excitement and pictures and everything else that goes along with a national championship.
Q—As a senior, how do you view your role on the team and how has your role changed over the years?
BELL—As a senior, I have a lot of experience behind me and am able to keep things a little more in perspective. I understand the training phases and how I should be performing during those different phases and am able to pass on my experience to underclassmen. When you’re a freshman and don’t know what’s ahead of you, it can be hard to see beyond the present (something else I learned freshman year)
Q—You were an academic and athletic star at nearby La Jolla High School. What factors led you to continue your pursuits at UCSD?
BELL—Being from San Diego was actually one of the reasons I didn’t really want to come to UCSD. I wanted to move away from home like most college students, but in the end, UCSD was the best fit. I loved the team and the coaches and the academic reputation was great. Also, one of our former assistant coaches coached at my high school and I would talk to him quite a bit about how the team was doing.
Q—Your family is very visible at UCSD home swim meets. Talk about your family and what role it plays in your life and swimming?
BELL—My mom comes to every home meet and most of our away meets. She brings food to feed the team after the meet, but for me, it’s nice just to have that support there. She’s not necessarily the most knowledgeable about the sport, but it fun to watch her get excited when the team does well. She makes an effort to watch everyone swim when we’re at our big meets and since swimming takes place at the same time as diving, she often goes over there so that they have people supporting them too.
Q—What are some of your interests outside of swimming?
BELL—I love the beach! Once I’m done with collegiate swimming, I fully intend to learn to surf and ski. Other than that, I’m quite content just hanging around with my friends.
Q—What will make the 2007 season a success in your eyes?
BELL—Ideally, I would like the team to win PCSC (conference) and to place top two at NCAA Division II Championships. Individually, I’ve been shooting for the 200, 400 IM or 100 back school record, but to be a success, I just want to have fun. I have so many memories of the NCAA meets from past years, so I definitely plan on just having a good time and the swimming will take care of itself.