Aug. 18, 2011
BOSTON - Caitlin Cronin reached out to touch the pool wall at the Mangione Aquatic Center hoping for the best.
In her first collegiate race last fall at Loyola Maryland, the former Notre Dame Academy standout surged past Allison Ranzau in the 200-yard freestyle, hit the wall four-tenths of a second ahead of the Naval Academy swimmer, setting a school record with the win.
"I attacked the race the entire time,'' recalled Cronin, who finished in 1:53.75. "When I hit the wall and came up, I was shocked when I saw my time.''
Cronin said she had just started collegiate training and "wasn't looking to break any records. It just happened.''
The Kingston native was named swimmer of the week in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and was well on her way to a sparkling first season at Loyola.
And this coming season, as a sophomore, she has been invited to train with Olympic coach Bob Bowman alongside 14-time gold medalist Michael Phelps.
"When I was younger, I did swimming lessons and I hated it,'' said Cronin, who grew up swimming at the Percy Walker Pool in Duxbury. "I took a year off and I played soccer. I came back because I missed swimming, and that's when I decided to start swimming competitively,'' at age 12.
Cronin swam for Kingfish Swimming, a club program based in Duxbury, and at Notre Dame in Hingham, where she won 12 Division 2 state titles, including four crowns in the 100-yard freestyle.
Kingfish coach Jay Craft calls Cronin a worker.
"She's got the drive, the mental toughness, and the technique,'' he said. "I wouldn't want to race against her. Swimming is a different sport. The amount of effort you're going to put in is what you're going to get out. Caitlin puts in the effort all around.''
He said that he encourages his swimmers to keep in touch. "Caitlin likes to learn,'' said Craft, who also coaches at Duxbury High. "She likes to share some of her experiences. If there's a piece of advice I can give her I would. Just having someone on the other end back at home that understand the sport is good.''
Cronin said swimming at the collegiate level is all about "team.''
"High school is more individual,'' she said. "In college it comes down to relays. Every swim matters, everyone plays a role,'' she said.
With her Loyola team, Cronin practiced in the morning and afternoon, unlike high school, where she swam only after school.
The training is more intense, including more time in the weight room.
Coach Brian Loeffler said Cronin had a great freshman year. "She was the team MVP,'' he said. "She swam anchor a lot for the relays. I'm expecting a good sophomore year from her.''
At the MAAC championships in February, she placed second in the 100-yard freestyle, broke her own record in the 200-yard freestyle (1:52.88), and anchored a pair of relay teams to top 5 finishes.
"She's a very coachable athlete [who] will continue to make great improvements through her years at Loyola,'' said Loeffler.
Each year select swimmers from Loyola are asked to train with Olympic coach Bowman at the Mangione Aquatic Center.
"We have a unique situation where Bob Bowman trains at our facility,'' said Loeffler. "I'll take a handful of our better athletes, and we'll run a joint training session together with athletes, including Michael Phelps and other Olympic hopefuls.''
Cronin said she can't wait to start training under Bowman. "It's going to be challenging, and I'm ready to step up my training to the next level,'' she said. "It's going to be exciting to train in that atmosphere.''
"My goal is to make the Olympic trials, which is enroute to making the Olympic team.''
The 2012 US Olympic Team Trials are scheduled for early next summer in Omaha, Neb.
"In swimming there's one day you have to get up and get it done to make the Olympic team,'' said Craft. "They take the best one or two and no one else from the event.''
He believes that training with Bowman will help Cronin in the future.
"It's great they see she has potential she can train with the best of them,'' he said. "It will give her all the confidence in the world.''
Cronin has continued rigorous training this summer, working out or swimming every day. She swam at two events held at Harvard, a US meet in June, and a New England Open in July, "to stay in shape for next season.''
The Greyhounds open their season on Oct. 8 against visiting George Mason.
"I think what keeps every athlete going is the hard work and the end result from it,'' she said. "It's all about making yourself happy. If you put in all your hard effort, you'll be happy in the end no matter what the outcome.''