The hint of victory started to spark in Kentucky sophomore Lauren Poole’s head during the breaststroke portion of the 400-yardindividual medley, but it didn’t grow. Bobbing in and out of the water, it’s hard to see anyone anyway.
But when Poole crested the lane for the freestyle, panic jolted her. She really couldn’t see anyone. The former South River star fretted she’d missed a 50-yard leg.
But Poole did have something tucked away that she hadn’t had before: a powerful store of confidence, cooked up by her teammates and coaches over these past two years.
That, and skills she’s worked on at the college level, boosted the Crofton native from her finishing 24th a year ago to the gold medal at the 2021 Southeastern Conference Women’s Swimming and Diving Championship on Feb. 19. Poole finished in 4:03.90 — a personal best and school record, and almost three seconds ahead of her teammate.
She was one of 12 Kentucky podium finishers and three winners to help the Wildcats capture their first SEC crown in school history.
Poole also recorded the second-fastest time in Kentucky history (1:55.56) in the 200-yard individual medley, finishing fifth overall.
“Just going into the meet, my team had such a high goal and an attainable one, but we knew what we could do,” Poole said. “Being able to swim for that and be a part of our win just meant the world to me.”
Poole had every reason to worry during the freestyle leg of the race. At the 400 IM invitational earlier this winter, Poole was disqualified on that exact stroke.
There were other ghosts haunting Poole’s mind, too. During the SEC Championships her freshman year, a bout with mono prevented her from reaching any kind of medal in the 400 IM as she came in 24th place.
“I tried not to think about last year … I did not enjoy that at all,” Poole said. “This year, I started the season so much better and I was racing in dual meets so much faster. A lot of it was just a buildup to where I wanted to be.”
Before she became just another Division I athlete, Poole won easily and helped carry the Seahawks to two Anne Arundel county championships in her two years swimming high school. Both years, she earned Capital Gazette Swimmer of the Year honors and broke records. As a senior, she went undefeated and likewise wowed with her famous club team, North Baltimore Aquatic Club, the birthplace of Olympian Michael Phelps. She qualified for Olympic Trials.
Stardom didn’t follow Poole to Kentucky, where she quickly learned the lesson most high school heroes do: everyone here was the best at what they did in high school, too.
“It was an adjustment, and definitely culture shock,” Poole said. “But I came in with a great class of girls who were all dealing with the same thing and we all got through it together.”
She narrowed her focus to the 400 IM to better adjust to the college level, and it began to pay off. Poole entered this season feeling more self-assured.
However, even as she had every reason to feel nothing but good during the SEC race, doubts started to cloud her head. But Poole was no green freshman. Though her coaches and teammates showed faith in her, Poole had to be confident in herself to shake those past misfortunes away.
“So I’m swimming freestyle, and thinking: do not get [disqualified]. Swim so obviously legal,” Poole said. “Because at that point, it felt like I could see the win in sight. It was still nerve-wracking, though.”
With the victory and best time, Poole’s next goal leveled up. In a couple weeks, she’ll be brushing shoulders with the best college swimmers in the country at the NCAA Championships March 17-20 — and this time she’s one of them.
“It’s kind of weird; I never thought I’d have such big expectations going into that kind of meet,” Poole said. “But right now, I’m third in the country. If that holds, that’ll just be insane and a whole different world.”
Two Mustangs make Big 33 team
Two Meade seniors — defensive back Calvin Harrison and athlete TJ Speight — earned roster spots on Team Maryland for the Big 33 Football Classic. Speight and Harrison are the only two Anne Arundel County representatives.
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Spalding, Southern players make initial All-American cut
Before McDonald’s trimmed its boys and girls basketball rosters for the 2021 All-American Game, two Anne Arundel kids got their moment in the sun.
On the girls’ side, Archbishop Spalding senior Koi Sims got the chance to brush shoulders with the country’s best girls players. Sims earned Capital Gazette All-County Second Team honors last winter and is an oft-leading scorer for the Cavaliers in this year’s abbreviated season.