One of the most decorated swimmers in UC San Diego history, three-time NCAA Division II champion Alex Henley hopes to add to her collection of hardware in March when she closes out her collegiate career at the 2012 NCAA Championships in Mansfield, TX. The Thousand Oaks, CA native holds UCSD school records in seven individual events and one relay and has twice been named one of UCSD's Athletes of the Year. Triton Head Coach Corrie Falcon knows Henley is a unique talent. "In so many ways, Alex is just what you'd want out of any swimmer in your program," says Falcon. "She's dedicated, a leader in all aspects and always willing to go the extra mile whether it's coming in to review video or talk about how we can make the team stronger. She's obviously brought a lot of visibility to our program and might be the most versatile swimmer in UCSD history." With the Pacific Collegiate Swim Conference (PCSC) Championships less than a month away and the NCAAs to follow, Henley took time to talk about her sport, the UCSD experience and the hopes she has for the remainder of her time in La Jolla.
Q-How would you describe your feelings about the sport of swimming?
HENLEY-It is definitely a love-hate relationship. Do I enjoy waking up at 5:00 AM three times a week and jumping in a cold pool an hour later? Absolutely not. But when I get to compete at meets with my team all of those hours are worth it. I love those that I get to spend my time with day-in and day-out and our passion for the water is something that keeps us going.
Q-How is swimming different from every other sport and what do you get from being a swimmer that your don't get anywhere else?
HENLEY-I think that swimming is a sport that you have to be in love with (whether you know it or not) to keep doing-especially at the collegiate level. I feel like it is one of the only sports where you can't have a real off-season. Also, because we spend so much time together you get to really know your teammates and make some amazing friends and become a family.
Q-You've obviously had a number of great moments during your collegiate career. Which one stands out the most and why?
think I will ever forget when we won PCSC's my sophomore year by six points
against Loyola Marymount. The whole last session I was running around Belmont
Plaza (Olympic Pool) like a chicken with its head cut off. I knew we wouldn't
beat them in the last relay, they were just too good at sprint free, so we had
to rely on those doing the 200s of stroke.
After the 200 butterfly I was waiting with Michelle Robbins by the scoreboard as they changed the points through the last individual event. All we had to do was get second in the last relay. I was anchoring and I thought I was going to have a heart attack on the blocks, when I touched and saw that we got second it was nice to know that we had won the meet. Jumping in the pool when they announced the scores was the greatest feeling ever. I have never been so emotional or stressed during a meet before which made the victory against our rivals that much sweeter once it was all over with.
Q-Describe the 30 minutes leading up to one of your races at a big meet.
HENLEY-I usually am listening to my iPod sitting in my parka before I get in to warm up. I then warm up for about 15 minutes and then get out and sit behind my block or in the ready room for the next 10 minutes until it is time for the race to begin.
Q-When you're all alone on the blocks, what's going through your mind? Do you have a mental checklist or a regular routine?
HENLEY-When I'm on the blocks I try not to think about anything except for listening to the starter say take your mark and wait for the beep.
Q-From the outside, you appear to be totally confident, totally in control when you're racing. Is there ever any doubt in those big pressure situations? If so, how do you deal with that?
definitely doubted myself while sitting behind the blocks...but that is the
beauty of having a powerful mind. As soon as I start to have doubt I tell
myself that I can't think that way and that I just need to go out there and
race. There is nothing more I can do to prepare at that point, so I just have
to go with what I've got and do the best I can.
Q-Your events run the gamut-middle distance freestyle, individual medley, butterfly and backstroke. Which is your favorite, which is the most difficult? Of the four IM disciplines, which do you wish you were better in?
HENLEY-Right now my favorite race is probably the 200 backstroke and it's probably because it is the one I have the most confidence in. The most difficult: the 400 IM. It is the longest thing I swim and you have to be very strategic when swimming this event. I wish I was a better breaststroker, It is kind of disheartening to have it be my worst stroke because when I was younger I was a breaststroker.
Q-You swam your first three years at UCSD under Head Coach Scott McGihon. This year, dual head coaches Corrie Falcon and Matt Macedo are guiding the team. Have you noticed any differences? What do you like about the new staff?
HENLEY-For the most part the structure of everything has stayed the same with a few changes. There is a lot of energy in our coaching staff with Corrie, Matt and assistant coaches Jason (Martin) and (Dan) Perdew. Since they are all somewhat close to us in age, the music during practice has definitely taken a turn for the best.
Q-With just one dual meet, the Pacific Collegiate Swim Conference Championships and the NCAA Championships remaining on this year's schedule, your collegiate career is starting to wind down. Has that started to hit you yet?
HENLEY-I think it has to some extent. I know at the senior recognition meet against Grand Canyon, I was in line to be recognized with Neda Nguyen and we were both saying "I don't think I'm ready to be the one on the block...we aren't really seniors, are we?" I think that most of the seniors are just trying to take it all in right now, and enjoy the moments we have left with this incredible team. I know the six senior swimmer girls have been swimming all their lives and that we are both scared and excited to see what lies on the other side.
Q-How have you seen your role on the team evolve over your four years? As a senior captain, what do you try to bring to the team in and out of the pool?
HENLEY-I remember as a freshman I had a huge amount of respect for those older than me and so I just did whatever they told me. Swimming fast wasn't an option, it was a necessity. It was the same case with picking up kickboards, ha ha. Now I just try and lead by example and instill confidence in my team. I am also more vocal than I was back then because I have been here for four years and I know what needs to get done. I want us to achieve things that this program has never achieved before and so I try and do my best to assure them of what they are capable of.
Q-When you first arrived at UCSD, what was the thing that surprised you most? Was there anyone who helped ease the transition from high school to college?
HENLEY-I was most surprised by how many different people I met when I came to school. There are quite a few unique individuals on this campus. The seniors my freshman year really helped me make the transition from high school to college. They were always checking up on us, giving us rides and making sure we had a good time while still working hard and swimming fast.
Q-What's the best advice anyone's ever given you?
HENLEY-"Be the best you can be." I know it sounds simple, and maybe a little silly but it is something that my grandpa has been telling me ever since I can remember. If you are always being the best you can then there are no regrets. I don't like to second guess myself and so if I know that I'm being the best I can be then there is no reason to doubt anything I've done.
Q-Swimmers are fairly notorious for their structure and discipline. Do you have any "vices" that might break that mold?
HENLEY-I don't think I have a vice because I have been swimming so long. Everything that I do is very structured.
Q-Among your interests, you listed baking and going to the beach? What's your "signature" dish and what do you consider the best beach in San Diego? Why?
HENLEY-I make some pretty good fudge and a bean dip (mom's recipe) for the Super Bowl every year that my teammates seem to enjoy. My favorite beach in San Diego is Mission Beach because of the boardwalk. It is really fun to people-watch there and it is beautiful.
Q-You're a physiology and neuroscience major and will be graduating in June. How have you managed to handle both the rigors of that field of study and the demands of swimming? What do you hope to do post-graduation?
HENLEY-Since I have been swimming my whole life it is almost second nature to be able to time manage and figure out doing both swimming and school. I hope that I can find some sort of job after graduation, however, I have no idea what type of job I want that to be.
Q-You've already qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials next summer. How excited are you about that?
HENLEY-I am so excited to go to Trials in June. It is something I have been dreaming of ever since I was a little girl. I can only hope that the last meet of my life is my best one.
Q-When your swimming career is over, what will you miss the most and what will be the one thing you won't miss?
HENLEY-I will miss the competitive part of swimming as well as spending the hours with the people that have become my family. I will definitely not miss having to wake up and leave my warm bed at 5:00 AM.
Q-If you could write your own script for the next two months, what would it be?HENLEY-I want for UCSD win PCSC's and qualify a full women's team for NCAA's. I want for my team to bring home a National Championship trophy from Mansfield, Texas in March. I want this team to have the best season it has ever had. I hope to go best times and place high individually but if we could do something monumental that would really be the cherry on top of the amazing experience that I have had as a collegiate athlete.
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Patti Gerckens (Softball) May 26, 2011
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Theresa Richards (Women's Track & Field) April 27, 2011
Austin West (Men's Tennis) April 17, 2011
Matt Herman (Men's Swimming & Diving) March 12, 2011
Christine Merrill (Women's Track & Field) June 14, 2010