By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
It’s pretty safe to say University of Georgia swimmer Shannon Vreeland missed friend and teammate Allison Schmitt last year.
A mainstay on the Bulldogs for the previous three years, Schmitt took the year off from school and NCAA competition to focus on preparing for the London Olympics. The two had became fast friends during Vreeland’s freshman year at Georgia, and when Schmitt left to train with Bob Bowman and Michael Phelps at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC), she left a void.
Although they were once again teammates this summer on the U.S. Olympic Team – and won a gold medal together swimming legs on the 800 freestyle relay – Vreeland said she is equally if not more excited to have her friend back on the Georgia squad this year.
Just think about the formidable relays they – along with recent U.S. Open champion Megan Romano and others – will form this year in Schmitt’s final season.
“I’m most looking forward to just having her around and on the team,” said Vreeland, a mid-distance freestyle swimmer from Overland Park, Kan. “In an activity we did with the Olympic Team, we were asked to describe people in a single word, and my word for Allison was teammate. She is the consummate teammate and having her around on the deck and off is going to be a great re-addition to the team this year.
“We trained a lot together, and since we swim the same events, we have a similar training schedule so it will be great to have a consistent training partner back. Outside the pool, we live only a few houses down on the same street, so that should be pretty fun.”
In Schmitt’s absence last year, Vreeland definitely came into her own. In addition to swimming a leg on the Bulldog’s NCAA Champion 800 freestyle relay team, she finished fourth in the 500, fifth in the 200 and 16th in the 100 freestyle events as well as on the third-place 400 freestyle relay team, earning multiple All-America honors.
Despite her success at NCAAs, it wasn’t until she swam at the Grand Prix in Charlotte this past May – where she dropped a second and a half in the 200 free – that she started to really believe if she swam her own race, she had a good shot at making her first Olympic Team in Omaha.
“Heading into the summer, my goals were more focused on the U.S. Open and making next year’s World University Games team, but when I dropped time in Charlotte, it definitely got me thinking more about Trials,” Vreeland said. “I knew if I could go 1:57 at Trials, that would be good enough for finals, and that would be great.”
As the story goes, Vreeland not only made finals at Trials but she finished among the top 6 (5th) in the 200 free and earned a spot on her first Olympic Team.
And while winning gold with Schmitt, Dana Vollmer and Missy Franklin on the 4x200m free relay was right at the top of the Olympic memories that will remain with her, there were a few other events and activities that left a lasting impression upon her.
“Training camp was so much fun, and doing the ‘Call Me Maybe’ video was a blast,” said Vreeland, who started her junior year this fall and has had many friends and even strangers congratulate her on her summer. “That’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Kathleen (Hersey) would just appear out of nowhere with the video camera and ask us to sing the song. It was a great way to bring the team together before London.”
While she admits she’s not a big fan of dual meets – “I’m not a great in-season swimmer; I’m much better at the end.” – Vreeland is definitely excited for the start of this collegiate swim season.
Buoyed by the success she experienced this summer and excited by the depth of the Georgia team (especially with Schmitt back for her final season), she is focused on working on improving her time in the 100 free as well as her other events.
And with Georgia having finished as the runner-up to California-Berkeley the past two years, she’s also excited to play a part in helping the Bulldogs win their first NCAA title since 2005.
“We really want to be in the fight (at NCAAs) and get over that hump, and I think we have a great nucleus of swimmers who can do that,” said Vreeland, who started swimming as an 8-year-old for Pete Malone and the Kansas City Blazers. “I really love the whole team aspect of NCAA swimming, and I feel like this is going to be a very good year for us. We are deep and strong.”
If she reaches a point when things aren’t going as she hoped or planned, Vreeland said she can always remember back to the tremendous impact her Olympic summer has had on her as a swimmer and person.
“I’ll always remember the things I did with teammates, like exploring London, going up in the London Eye with a big group of teammates or just going to a bunch of other athletic events and watching fellow U.S. teammates compete,” Vreeland said.
“I’ll also remember the memorable team meetings we had and how they made me stop and think about everything we were accomplishing as a team. That will have a lasting effect on me moving forward in my life and swimming.”