By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Jenny Connolly put together a standout career at Tennessee, and now she’s hoping this time at Olympic Trials she can get a best time in the 100 fly or 100 back, two events she knows are loaded among the U.S. women. In this week’s 20 Question Tuesday, she talks about the lead-up to Trials, and what she learned from 2008 Olympic Trials.
1. How is swimming going?
Jenny: I think swimming is going really well. I am really, really, really enjoying it. I went best time in the 100 fly at NCAAs. It’s been hard to go a best time in an event you swim all the time! But it has been a blast and I am swimming fast.
2. What did you swim at Trials in 2008 and how did it go?
Jenny: I swam the 100 fly and 100 back as well. I was so nervous the entire time. I am just going to say it: I was terrified, absolutely terrified. For the 100 backstroke, in the prelim I was next to Natalie (Coughlin), who set a world record, and Hayley McGregory (now Mortimer) was in my lane in the heat before me, and had broken the world record! It was such a big learning experience. I think I was so nervous the whole time, I just psyched myself out. I was thinking about my competitors the whole time and what they were doing and not what I was doing. I went straight from that meet right into college. Now I am confident in my abilities – of course, my competitors are confident in their abilities, too – but I have learned so much from 2008.
3. Could you tell something special was happening?
Jenny: I remember flames coming out of the side of the pool, and 13,000 people screaming, and I was thinking, “Shoot, what is happening?” But now, I am used to that pressure. I remember racing next to Natalie, right before we started, I looked at her, and she was stone-faced. I was like, “Oh, she is going for it!” (to retake the world record she had that McGregory had just set). But I fell more into thinking about watching her do something amazing, and I needed to focus on the fact that I was swimming. Natalie did take back her record, and it was so impressive. This time, I will think about my swim!
4. What a group you were on for National Junior Team back in the day, and some are still swimming in college, aren’t they?
Jenny: You know, a few of them still are. But college is a different experience for everyone. A lot of people struggle with the decision to continue and swimming might not be something they still want to do in school. Goals change, and that’s not a bad thing. I still talk to Michelle McKeehan, who swam for Georgia. We have been best friends since we were 14. We both had our own individual struggles in the sport, but we both came out of college loving swimming, amazed at how much fun it has been even though we went to two totally different schools, with two completely different programs, and had different experiences. It’s nice to see some of the people from that Junior Team around still, and some are at the top of their careers, and that’s great, too.
5. Which is your better event for Trials?
Jenny: The 100 fly probably, though I am so excited for the whole experience. Both events (100 fly and 100 back) have some pretty great competitors! There are really tough people in both events. Those races are so much fun, going against the best of the best. But yes, the 100 fly is my best event. I have come close to mastering it in my own way. It’s so much of a fun event. You need to love the event you are doing, that’s so important in swimming. In order to come close to mastering an event – and by that I mean doing the absolute best you can in it – you have to love it first. So the 100 fly for sure is one of my favorites, even though it can be kind of tough!
6. The backstroke field is incredible, isn’t it?
Jenny: Yes, that’s going to be tough! You know, all the 100 backstrokers on the National Team are awesome people. They are AMAZING swimmers and people. I have been racing Natalie for a long time now, and racing Elizabeth Pelton for a long time now – since I was 16, and Rachel Bootsma for a long time. And now Missy Franklin comes up and beats everybody! So whoever makes this team is going to be honored. It’s a tough group of girls. I have had a love-hate relationship with the 100 back, and trained for it so much, and it’ been tough, but I have learned to love it.
7. Where did this growth and maturity as a swimmer come from?
Jenny: I attribute a lot of learning strictly to Tennessee and Matt Kredich’s program. It really is an amazing program. It’s a fantastic program and he’s a fantastic coach and so is (assistant coach) Jennifer Woodruff. I learned a lot about swimming in and out of the water in college, including traveling, the importance of nutrition, the importance of weight training, the importance of working hard, and also of enjoying it all. Being on National Teams has helped – I learned a lot from those experiences.
8. Going to Shenzhen, China for WUGs – was that something that helped you learn to adapt as far as being out of a comfort zone and traveling?
Jenny: China is obviously across the world, and in a different time zone, with different food. Ask anyone from that team: We had to work through some interesting situations. But overall it was amazing. I keep saying this, but I learned a lot about the importance of nutrition and keeping as close as possible to a “normal” routine.
9. That WUGs experience – you made the most of that with the individual and relay medal, didn’t you?
Jenny: Someone – Presley Bard – scratched. That’s an interesting side story to this, how she is one of the nicest people I have ever met. I wrote on her Facebook wall, hey what happened, and she wrote back, “Jenny, I really want you to go.” I have her to thank for that. I was very nervous for World University Games, but that ended up being a big meet for me. I have Presley to thank for getting me out of a rut and being able to show what I can do at that meet. She’s one of the nicest people I have ever met.
10. One of the best parts of swimming is the people, right?
Jenny: Exactly. That’s how swim friends are; you can pick up on the deck where you left off. World University Games was a fun meet. When I found out that I made the team like that – barely (laughs) made it – I wanted to show what I could do.
11. What a collection of talent on that team, and at that meet in general, correct?
Jenny: Yes, and it was so much fun. The group of people who went is amazing. I talk to so many of them all the time. It’s a good group of swimmers, and amazing group of coaches. NCAAs was this past week, and it was like a reunion for everyone. The talent there at WUGs was just phenomenal. You get the best competition from the other countries, so in a way it’s like a preview of the Olympics.
12. What else makes you tick?
Jenny: I attribute a lot of my personality to my religion and my faith. I am Mormon, or Latter Day Saint. That is mainly the reason I carry myself the way I do. It may sound like the wrong time to bring this up, but my goal is to inspire people, and be as Christ-like as possible. Whether it’s a competitor or someone from a different team, I think, “Why not try to create a friendship?” That’s why I carry myself the way I do, because I am so blessed and I try to represent myself the way God would have me do it.
13. What was conference like this year?
Jenny: SECs was probably my favorite meet. I absolutely love that meet. Anyone can tell you that it is louder and even more exciting in some ways than NCAAs. It’s so much more of a team meet than NCAAs. Having it be my last home meet was incredible.
14. The all-American awards and everything that you did that was either a school record or close to it, do those mean a lot to you?
Jenny: Those things are great, but you don’t really think about it in the moment. Coach will ask me if I know that I broke a record or earned something, and I won’t be aware of it because it’s not on the forefront of your mind. The main thing I thought about at SECs and NCAAs was to get as many points as possible for our team. Something amazing about Tennessee is that it is always all about the team – it’s about what you can do to make the team better, and I love that.
15. Plus you have the most unique team colors, right?
Jenny: Of course we do – we look like (laughs) parking cones! I love it, and everyone noticed us.
16. You mentioned Coach Kredich, how much has he helped you?
Jenny: Oh my goodness, I can’t tell you enough about how great that man is. I give him full credit for my successes in the pool. He and Jenn Woodruff are an amazing team. There have been tough moments, everyone has them with your coaches – but every single year was amazing. We finished seventh at NCAAs this year, and that’s the second highest place we have ever had. After my final swim, the 100 backstroke, I didn’t go a best time, and I was throwing on sweats to go to the podium. Matt came over to me, and I was just sobbing – it’s such a great program, and I am going to miss it so much.
17. Pretty cool how much the people of Knoxville support UT, right?
Jenny: Everyone bleeds orange. There is orange all over the city. It’s a great college town. You walk around downtown, wearing Tennessee swimming and diving gear, and people talk to you for the longest time about how much they love Tennessee and the Lady Vols.
18. You have another coaching genius there in legend Pat Summitt – what’s that like?
Jenny: Pat Summitt is just an idol of mine. She is fantastic. Everyone once in a while I will see her around. She is one intense lady. She has done so much for that school, and women’s basketball – and even women’s athletics in general has skyrocketed because of her. The atmosphere she has created is just phenomenal.
19. How good of a fit were you with the UT women’s swim team?
Jenny: We were a great fit for each other. We’re all individual people, I can tell you that by the way we came together, in a lot of ways we are the same person! We did everything together. I am going wedding dress shopping – there’s my update, I’m engaged (to a swimmer from BYU) and my teammates are going with me. Our team is like a family. It’s very special.
20. You mentioned coaching when we talked a long time back – is that something you want to get into still?
Jenny: I would love to one day be a college coach. I’d love to do something with my major first though, which is recreation and leisure studies. What I do with that is work with people with disabilities of any and all kinds. I think I would like to do something with therapeutic recreation, which is my concentration. What we trying to do is make someone who has disabilities have as normal a life as possible. That’s the goal of my major. We like to do a lot of outdoor things, like rock climbing, and horseback riding is a common one people think of right away. It’s all about making their life as normal as possible. And I’d love to have that for my career.