By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
University of Georgia standout Megan Romano just missed making the Olympic Team in the 200 free. She touched the wall, looked up and saw a “7” by her name, which was 16-hundreths of a second off of the final cut. A reporter called it “the cruelest 16-hundredths of a second of Megan Romano’s life.” The 2011 National Team standout had to refocus her goals on helping her team win a title. Along with Olympic and National Team teammates, such as Allison Schmitt and Shannon Vreeland, Romano delivered big for her team, and the result was the Bulldogs’ fifth national championship. She explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. What does it mean to be on an NCAA championship team?
Megan: In years past, ever since my freshman year, I didn’t really realize how intense I would care for this team. Coming close so many times has been heartbreaking, almost. Going out like this is the best feeling in the world. Doing it with these girls is awesome. Winning individually means nothing compared to winning as a team – winning as a team means so much more.
2. Pretty big to bring the NCAA title back to SEC country?
Megan: For sure, yes. My freshman year, we lost to Florida, so that was pretty rough. The past two years we lost to Cal. Just coming close those two years…you want it so bad. To have it at the tip of your fingers is like, dang! But to do it this year means a lot, and to have it back in the SEC is also special.
3. What happened at Olympic Trials?
Megan: I am not really sure what happened. I usually have good races when I have a good taper. But I think I might have over-rested. I think I came off weights too early, too. I just was not feeling it.
4. You had a slow last 50 in the 200 – but did you feel like you finished slow in the 100 free too?
Megan: Not making it in the 200 free, by that small a margin, was very upsetting. The 100 free, I knew I had a good chance as well. But I was dying in the 100 free, and that is not supposed to happen – by the end of the second 50, I was out. I think, again, I just came off weights too early, I hadn’t lifted in a month.
5. Your times – setting the American record the previous year in the 200 – were good enough to make the team, and even medal. Was that something you had to process mentally afterward?
Megan: I think the worst part was in Texas two weeks earlier (before Trials), those times would have made the team. And then two weeks after Trials, at U.S. Open, the times I went would’ve made the team. So definitely yes, you think about that.
6. An amazing year capped off with a title – you ready to get back in the water?
Megan: I am definitely getting to the point where I need a vacation or break, because in swimming you don’t really get that. But I am definitely swimming this summer. I am going to World Team Trials, and if that doesn’t work out, I will go for World University Games.
7. How much are you enjoying the team title?
Megan: For right now, I am just soaking it all in. This is, honestly, the one thing I have wanted to have happen in college swimming. I’m sure next year we will be fine. We have some new people coming in, and some good people coming back.
8. You love the “team title” comment people keep saying, don’t you?
Megan: You can tell I’m a team-oriented person. I want to do it for my teammates. I think if I go fast, it will help them go fast.
9. What about (Bulldogs coach) Jack Bauerle’s reaction – I can’t remember seeing him so emotional, can you?
Megan: He was so awesome. His interviews were so good. He almost cried in an interview yesterday, and I was so moved. I just love Jack.
10. How did you and Allison Schmitt become so close?
Megan: My freshman year, we didn’t hang out that much. My sophomore year, we started hanging out. Honestly, I don’t know how we became such good friends. I think my chillness and laid back approach mixes well with her crazy, outgoing, weird ways. We just bond so well. She’s just something else, literally. And then she left (to train at North Baltimore Aquatic Club for a year), but I’m not mad about that.
11. Were you always fast in the water?
Megan: Really, ever since I started swimming, I was kind of natural in the water. I progressed really well, and got fast really young. That started me going to big meets when I was 12 or 13. I almost got sick of it. In high school, I didn’t even go to practice as much. High school got boring for me because I would win by so much. I just got sick of it and stopped going to practice sometimes and got really stubborn. That led me to plateau for a few years, and I didn’t get any faster.
12. So did that passion come back in college?
Megan: I hit college and everything changed. I wasn’t sick of swimming anymore. I love the team. If college swimming wasn’t there for me, I don’t know where I’d be right now. Swimming for someone else means so much. And I dropped a crazy amount of time. Going to practice did do something for me.
13. The team title – even though missing London was hard – this feels good, doesn’t it?
Megan: I just think winning as a team…yeah, I could have gone to London and earned a medal. And winning an individual title last year (at NCAAs), that’s awesome on the podium waving to your team, but it means so much more to me in my heart to win as a team. I’d take winning as a team one time over winning individually all four years. It’s just fun. Everyone helps everyone, and everyone looks out for everyone. I actually get more excited when other people do well, then I do for myself.
14. There was an example of that this weekend, wasn’t there?
Megan: Yes, a lot of them. But specifically, when Shannon (Vreeland) made the A final in the 100 free in prelims, I was way more excited for her, because she wasn’t even supposed to make (the B final). I was like, “Yeah, whatever I made it, but she wasn’t supposed to.” So when she got out of the water, I ran over and gave her a hug. I was just jumping up and down.
15. This team was the proverbial example of gelling, wasn’t it?
Megan: We definitely got a lot closer as the year went on. At the start of the year, we had been separated, and we just grew and grew and grew. That was so strong by the end, there was no way we could have lost.
16. You had some young help, didn’t you?
Megan: The freshmen really picked it up. There’s no way we could have won without them. Chantal (Van Landeghem) and Brittanny (MacLean), especially, are from Canada and didn’t know anything about college swimming. Swimming at NCAAs is so different than anything else. Brittany cheers for everyone in every single race, she’s never quiet; she’s up in the stands cheering. Brittany is going to be a great leader.
17. How much did your experience two years ago at WUGs help, and what made you so comfortable on that trip?
Megan: Shannon (Vreeland) was there. I felt a lot more comfortable having her there. I knew some others on the team, too. (Former Georgia assistant and current Texas women’s head coach) Carol (Capitani) really helped me when she was here, and so does Harvey (Humphries). But Carol and I have such a close bond. She believed in me more than I believed in myself. When she was here, she was like, “Let’s do this,” and I had a great year. After WUGs I realized I could compete with anyone for any title. WUGs was a great group of girls and guys. I had competed at big meets before, but this was the biggest one. And Carol really helped me at that meet. She said, “You have crazy splits at college meets, and you can do that here.”
18. When did Jack and the team know last weekend the title was imminent?
Megan: This is a funny story. So, it was before the prelims relay on the last day. Jack comes over to me and says something like, “We have this – we’ve got this in the bag.” I don’t know if I want to tell you this, but I don’t cry ever. Jack says that to me, and I started getting teary eyed and crying. People were like, “Oh my God, Megan Romano is crying.” When you have wanted something for that long and you know you are going to get it – I wasn’t holding back at all, I let all my emotions out, and it was just a downpour. Jack could’ve waited to tell me until after the relay, but no. But yes, going into finals, when we were unloading, we knew we had it; we just had to swim, and not get DQ’d or anything.
19. What’s a piece of advice you have for incoming freshmen?
Megan: The first couple of weeks are hard. Balancing school and swimming is nothing new to swimmers. Being a swimmer, you know what to expect. My advice would be to not worry about it. People think too much and freak out too much about what might or might not happen. Just study and swim. You have worked hard your whole life for that, it’ll turn out all right.
20. What has this last year taught you about yourself?
Megan: Just how strong I can be. I feel like a lot of people, if they went through what I went through at Trials, they might not have been able to compete at this level the following year. The day after Trials, I flew back here and started training for U.S. Open. To come back and do it for the team…I have worked so hard for so long to get this goal of a team title. It has shown everyone else – and me – how strong I am.