The latest in a long line of standout breaststrokers at UC San Diego, junior Neda Nguyen is coming off back-to-back years where she's earned All-American status by making her way into the finals of the 200 breaststroke (6th in 2010) at the NCAA Division II Championships and the consolation finals of the 100 breaststroke (10th). A Pleasanton, CA native out of Foothill High School, Nguyen is giving every indication that she's capable of matching, if not bettering those standards by the time 2011 is in the books. Head Coach Scott McGihon has noticed a change. "Neda's taken control of her racing and is leading by example in training," says McGihon. "At the end of the year, I expect that we'll look back and say this was her best season." With the regular season winding down and the conference championships just weeks away, Nguyen took time to talk about her progress, this year's Triton team and her hopes for the remainder of the year.
Q-How would you compare swimming to the other sports at UC San Diego and what type of personal characteristics are necessary to be successful in this program?
NGUYEN-Swimming is a lot different from other sports because we never really have an off-season. Although winter quarter is our main competition period, we train and compete throughout the fall, spring, and summer as well. You need to have a lot of dedication and love for the sport to continue doing it year after year, and you have to be patient in order to see all your hard work pay off.
Q-How would you describe your relationship with your sport?
NGUYEN-It's definitely a love/hate relationship. I really enjoy what I am doing, but it can get very difficult to get out of bed at 5:00 in the morning for another day of training. I think we all have those days where we don't even want to touch the water, but you have to have passion for the sport and confidence that it's all going to benefit you at the end of the season.
Q-As a freshman and sophomore, you were part teams that posted back-to-back third place finishes at the NCAA Division II Championships. How is this year's team different than those? What kind of expectations do you have, team-wise, in 2011?
NGUYEN-There are some really great new additions to the team, which makes the prospects of NCAA's really exciting for us this year. Everyone on the team has a pretty positive outlook on this season, which can make a huge difference in our confidence as a team. Alongside winning our conference championships, I believe that we can place higher than third this year at nationals in March.
Q-How has the addition of several new swimmers in your stroke groups influenced your training this season?
NGUYEN-It adds a lot of "healthy competition", or so Matthew Macedo (asst. coach) likes to call it. Having a larger stroke group to train with is a lot of fun, and really makes you push yourself more during practices since we have a lot of talented swimmers.
Q-In your primary event, the breaststroke, UCSD Women's Swimming has had quite a storied tradition. Are you aware of the history there and does it have any impact on you?
NGUYEN-Indeed. There is quite a history of victorious NCAA breaststroke champions among the ranks of past UCSD swimmers. It definitely has a huge impact on me knowing what this program is capable of and how confident we should be about the undeniable success of the swimmers it has produced.
Q-How has your role on the team evolved since you first arrived at UCSD?
NGUYEN-Well, I am an upperclassman now, and having gone through almost three years of this program I like to think that I have a little more sense of what is going on and what the ultimate plans and goals of the year are. I like being on the other side of things, and knowing more about what is going on with team.
Q-In your career, what has surprised you the most about collegiate swimming?
NGUYEN-The amount of time you have to invest in the sport. There is hardly any room in your schedule to have a life outside of school and swimming. When I swam on my club team while in high school, I didn't think swimming could take up any more of my life than it did already, but somehow when I came to college it found a way.
Q-When did you start swimming and what spurred your interest?
NGUYEN-I started swimming when I was very young, and my parents say it is because they did not want me to drown. So after learning to survive in a body of water, I just never stopped swimming. I tried a lot of other sports as well when I was younger, but none of them really held my interest as much, so I eventually quit my other sport activities.
Q-What makes you a good breaststroker? Is there a typical point in a race where you know that it's going to be a good or bad swim?
NGUYEN-For me personally, it is all mental and is something I am still working on. Usually I don't feel a defining point in my race; I like to think that anything can happen within the race up until the point your hand touches the last wall.
Q-You also swim the individual medley. Is this swimming's toughest event? Which of the four strokes causes you the most trouble? Why?
NGUYEN-In my opinion the 200s of stroke and the 400 individual medley are the toughest events, although I am sure some of the mile swimmers would strongly disagree with me. I would have to say backstroke has always caused me the most trouble because I just can't seem to get some of the technical aspects of the stroke very well.
Q-What are the key attributes that Coach Scott McGihon brings to the UCSD team? What effect has he had on your swimming?
NGUYEN-Scott is really dedicated to this program, and all of his swimmers. He has a lot of faith in us as a team and as individuals, and his confidence in us, personally, makes me feel more confident in myself as a part of this team. His movie quotes are usually a pretty good laugh too.
Q-How did you make the decision to attend UCSD?
NGUYEN-My very first recruit trip was to UCSD and, apart from being drawn in by the great academic aspects of the school, I was really struck by the closeness of the team as a whole. After going on a few more recruit trips to other colleges, I easily made the decision to sign early with UCSD, and before the first half of my senior year in high school was over, I already knew where I was going to attend college.
Q-Aside from swimming, what other sports do you enjoy watching? Most of your favorite sports teams are reflective of your hometown being in Northern California. Do you ever get any heat from your teammates and local friends?
NGUYEN-I don't follow a whole lot of other sports very closely, but I do like watching football and basketball. I don't think you can avoid joining the Chargers bandwagon once you move to San Diego, but I've always been a 49ers fan too, even though they haven't been doing real well. I just try not to be an obnoxious fan wherever I am so I don't get others around me riled up in defense of their favorite sports team.
Q-What type of influence has your family had on your swimming career?
NGUYEN-My parents are both big sports fanatics and have always been very supportive of me in everything that I do, including swimming, so I am very lucky to have them. I also have two younger sisters, ages 10 and 12, who have always copied almost everything that I have ever done in my life. My 12-year-old sister, who also swims, even swears that she is going to go to UCSD when she gets older so I think it will be really interesting to see how that actually plays out when she grows up.
Q-As a pharmacological chemistry major, how have you found the course load at UCSD? What has been your most interesting class do date?
NGUYEN-Trying to balance the academic load with the swimming schedule has probably been the single biggest challenge of being on the team. As with a lot of other majors, there are always conflicts with the swimming training or travel schedule, and you have to somehow make that work. My most interesting courses so far have been my biochemistry classes; I really enjoy the material and I think it is interesting to learn about how even tiny fundamental body structures and processes all function to correlate with our daily lives.
Q-What do you hope to do after you graduate?
NGUYEN-Ultimately, I would like to be able to go to pharmacy school after I graduate.
Q-What is one in thing you would like to accomplish in the pool before you graduate from UCSD? One thing outside of the pool?NGUYEN-Before I graduate from UCSD, I want to retire my swimming career happily and be satisfied with how it turned out. I have been swimming almost my entire life, and I would like more than anything to be able to look back on it once I am done and not have any regrets. Outside of the pool, I would like to have an opportunity to study abroad before I graduate from UCSD.
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