Record-holding Reaney departs as most decorated Irish swimmer
Brian Plamondon | Friday, May 15, 2015
After becoming Notre Dame’s first-ever swimming national champion in 2014, Irish senior Emma Reaney faced a daunting task trying to live up to her past exploits. She did just fine during the 2014-2015 season, garnering three more All-American scrolls at the NCAA championships.
Reaney’s career ended at the championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, in late March, when she took home All-America honors in the 200-yard individual medley (fourth place, 1:55.13), 100-yard breaststroke (third, 58.43) and 200-yard breaststroke (fourth, 2:07.10). In the 100 breaststroke race, Reaney was part of a photo finish at the wall, where four swimmers clocked in within .21 seconds of each other.
Those honors bring her career total to a program-record 13 All-America or honorable mention All-America citations in addition to her national championship last year in the 200 breaststroke, which also set an American record that still stands.
“It was really important [to build off last year’s success],” Reaney said. “It kind of solidified in my mind that I was good enough, that I can be the best. I didn’t feel like a ton of pressure going into this year from anyone other than myself really. Using the confidence from last year was definitely something that I did to stay motivated this year.”
Reaney began this season without the familiar face of her coach, Brian Barnes, who abruptly resigned to spend more time with his family in September. Barnes was replaced by longtime Irish men’s swimming and diving coach Tim Welsh on an interim basis. Welsh said having Reaney on the team did not factor into his decision, but it certainly was a plus having her on the roster.
“Having that chance to coach her was a bonus,” Welsh said. “Emma is a spectacular person, wonderful role model, and having her as a member of the team strengthened everything we did.”
Although Reaney may not have put up the gaudy numbers she did last year, this year was undoubtedly a success. Heading into the NCAA championships, she was seeded 12th in the 200 IM and fifth in the 100 breast; when all was said and done, she came in well ahead of those marks. Welsh said he attributed Reaney’s success to three points about her character.
“The first thing about Emma is her focus,” Welsh said. “She never takes a sloppy stroke. She’s focused on doing an excellent job in everything she does, and she’s focused all the time on becoming better.
“The second thing is that she’s very trusting, which makes for an interesting combination. She trusts her coaches, her teammates and the program. She’s able to give herself to the program because she trusts it.
“The third thing about Emma that makes her so special is that she’s very practical and realistic. She puts everything she has into every practice and every race until it’s over. She doesn’t obsess about them though, and to do that is a talent, and she has it.”
Reaney has dominated on the NCAA level, but she also has helped establish Notre Dame’s credibility as a new member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. This year at the ACC championships in Atlanta, Reaney won her second consecutive ACC title in the 100 breaststroke. She placed second in the 200 breaststroke as well, bringing her two-year ACC championship total to four individual championships, a runner-up finish and five all-ACC scrolls.
“All of her accomplishments while she’s been here establish at the highest level that this is a program on the rise and that wants to compete at the top,” Welsh said.
Reaney has been a force to reckon with all year. In January, at the Shamrock Invitational, which doubled as Senior Day, Reaney came away with three individual wins, four relay victories and four pool records (two individual, two relay).
Further, at a nonconference meet in mid-January, Reaney went three-for-three in individual events against swimmers from ranked programs Wisconsin and Indiana. In that meet, she dominated the 200 breast by close to six seconds. Still, Welsh said one of the greatest traits he notices in Reaney is how she is much more than just an accomplished swimmer.
“She’s a team player, a role model … [and] you can’t coach that. [so] having the chance to coach her is just a wonderful joy,” Welsh said. “She’s just an amazing person, and that’s something she’d have even if she couldn’t swim a stroke. But she swims a lot of them, and really well, too.”
Reaney will now train to swim professionally, a journey that begins in August in South Korea at the World University Games. After, Reaney will train with her club team in North Carolin,a with the end goal qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games at the U.S. National Team trials next June. Reaney said she will use this season as motivation moving forward.
“[The ending] was bittersweet,” Reaney said. “I’m sad that my Notre Dame career was over. I was sad that I got fourth [in the 200 breaststroke at the NCAA championships]. I was also really proud of what I had been able to do.”
Reaney said her last race was emotional, especially experiencing it with her senior teammates. After a stunning career, she will go down as the greatest swimmer in Notre Dame history, and she credits her environment with helping her get there.
“I really didn’t think I’d find a place that I could call home more than my actual home, and Notre Dame has been able to do that for me,” Reaney said. “I want everyone to know how awesome this place is, and how much I love it. If I can do that through my swimming, then I’ve been successful.”