By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Talk about making it count. Good things don’t just come to those who wait in the case of Plainwell, Michigan native Mallory Comerford -- indeed, the University of Louisville junior, a team captain this NCAA season, went for greatness making her first World Championship team, claiming five golds and setting the 100 free record (which teammate and her good friend Simone Manuel then broke) in Hungary. Comerford explains why her 12th place finishes at the 2016 Olympic Trials were a springboard, not anchors to hold her back, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Wasn’t it quite satisfying to help Team USA and win five golds at Worlds??
Mallory: Yes, very much so. It’s a really nice feeling. I am enjoying it and having fun with it. It’s been a fun past year, a couple of years, really. I am ready for what’s next.
2. Being up on the podium at Trials making the Worlds team with teammate Kelsi Worrell, what was that feeling like?
Mallory: It’s so amazing. Kelsi has been such a role model and such a big part of my career at Louisville. Once I got here (to college), Kelsi took me under her wing. She’s been there for me as a mentor and friend. She really encourages me. Or if I need help with anything. And she’s helped me develop as a swimmer.
3. What was it like having Kelsi as a relay teammate at Worlds?
Mallory: Being on that relay with her was so special -- as was sharing the podium with her at trials. I’m up there with this woman who has made such an impact on my career.
4. Did you see all this happening when you first arrived at Louisville, from the international success to being an NCAA all-American?
Mallory: Definitely not. I obviously had high goals. I was super excited to come to Louisville. Watching Kelsi do as well as she did her junior year and watching the team succeed made me so excited to come here and make a little bit of an impact.
5. It’s quite a swim program at U of L, isn’t it?
Mallory: Yes, and I have the best friends, best coaches, and so many resources in the best athletic department. All of it is so incredible. I can’t imagine something different. I made the right decision. If you would have told me I would be talking to you about this (NCAA, Louisville, Worlds) during my junior year of college, I wouldn’t have believed it!
6. Your coach at Louisville, Arthur Albiero, what’s he been like for your development?
Mallory: He’s been an amazing coach for me. We really click. He’s really invested in us as student-athletes and wants us to succeed. He’s able to bring it out in different ways which is important because everyone has different goals.
7. You tied at NCAAs for first place in the 200 free with Katie Ledecky, what did that do for you?
Mallory: It definitely was a great race. A confidence booster. But racing girls like Katie and Simone and all the girls in that final help you learn about yourself. One of the things that works best for me is focusing on my race and swimming to my strengths, and to be confident behind blocks and not worry about anyone else.
8. And then after NCAAs you are on the Worlds team and on relays with these amazing Olympians from Stanford, what’s that like?
Mallory: It’s fun now that we are able to know each other and be more like friends after Worlds. And it’s such an honor to race people who are amazing. I can’t wait to continue to race them and learn more about myself.
9. Beating Simone at Nationals to make the team and setting the American record, how did that happen?
Mallory: Finally I was so ready for that meet. Finally I was excited to race long course, I had really struggled with it (long course) up to that point. I was finally getting the hang of things. It was a great race and so much fun. And even making the team, I wouldn’t have been able to do that without Simone. We have these incredible swimmers who make us all better. So to secure my spot on the World team with that race and experience with Katie next to me was awesome. And my parents were there!
10. So five golds, wow or what -- and isn’t there sort of more pressure on relays because everyone is counting on you?
Mallory: Five golds. Yeah! But no, I didn’t expect that. I definitely knew I’d swim on a relay with great girls but I didn’t know how many (relays). Swimming on a relay is actually more motivating. It makes it easier in one way because you are swimming for them. In another way it makes it harder because you are also swimming for them, and representing your country so you have to be your best. But having those girls and that atmosphere representing the United States, I loved it and it was so much fun. And every relay at Worlds was so different each time.
11. That was a cornucopia of formats and lineups, wasn’t it?
Mallory: Mixed relays, women’s relays, different distances -- it was good to see it and I was so honored to be a part of it and that the coaches believed in me and put me with those incredible relay teams.
12. How do you explain setting the American record to lead off that relay at Worlds?
Mallory: I mean, it was one of the first races of the meet, and I was so (laughs) hopped up on adrenaline! I swam the prelim race and got some nerves out -- that was my first big international long-course race. That night I was super excited because I wanted to race Australia. I was doing it for the girls on the relay and giving it everything I had for our country.
13. You looked excited when Simone broke the record -- is that accurate?
Mallory: Oh my gosh, YES! It makes the sport better. It makes me better -- makes us all better. It was so exciting to see her hard work pay off. And I am so excited to continue racing her and continuing to get better. It’s awesome to see teammates reach their goals. It makes the atmosphere so much more exciting. Everyone was so excited for each other -- you feed off each other. Being able to achieve that and see it broken first hand was so inspiring and exciting.
14. What about at NCAAs earlier this year, racing all those Olympians from both the U.S., and world who swim for American colleges?
Mallory: Oh, it is so cool. Being able to race someone who has an Olympic medal -- as someone who hasn’t been on an Olympic team -- is so incredible; just to race next to someone who has accomplished something as great as that. They have earned and deserved that. To be able to be next to them is such a great honor. As it is continuing to race them to help me get better.
15. How did you find your way in long course after struggling to finishes outside the top 10 at 2016 Olympic Trials?
Mallory: I definitely think just experience. I had never trained long course before I went to college, so it was a shock to my system in college when I got here. I didn’t like it (laughs) that much at first but then I have grown to like it more and more. Talking to my coach and understanding it has helped. So I can finally train long course more consistently, practice where I need to improve in long course, and race it more often -- and understand my race strategy in long course more, and find ways to get better at it. There isn’t the same amount of turns, that’s an obvious difference from short course but it’s an important adjustment. So we watched a lot of videos to see what the great swimmers are doing. And having success in short course at NCAAs with the best swimmers in the world -- racing the best people -- helped my confidence, and my development as a swimmer.
16. What’s it like racing on relays with Nathan Adrian, Simone, Caeleb Dressel and all those fantastic swimmers?
Mallory: At first I was like, “Wow, Nathan Adrian, Caeleb, Simone…” But they immediately made me feel like I deserved to be there and helped me fit right in. The mixed relays are such a different dynamic. To be there with the fastest women in the world and the fastest men in the world on your relay is just so much fun. And so is just having the boys on the relay because they are so fun and upbeat it just adds a different atmosphere to it. All of the relays I was on were so memorable because of the awesome teammates -- I won’t forget any of them.
17. How much did you have to adapt to college after club?
Mallory: So, definitely since I have been at school, it has been a huge learning process. You take in so much information because everything in college is a change -- the lifestyle, academics, friends, where you live, how you eat, and you have new coaches. I was fortunate to have such great coaches growing up and now at Louisville. And Kelsi and the others on the team helped all of us when we were freshmen to get the new information we needed and understand it. I didn’t know about tempos or what I should be eating before a long college meet, or much about the importance about recovery and even getting massage. So you have to soak a lot in and remember it’s always a continuing process. I’ve changed what I eat -- diet is a process that I need to get even better at, because my goal is fueling my body. And we have tremendous resources here at the university for that to help us grow as student-athletes and take on more of the responsibility as part of our development.
18. You are majoring in marketing, what do you plan to do with it?
Mallory: I don’t know exactly what I hope to do. I would love to stick with swimming and continue to do more with swimming on the business side of it at some point. I’m not exactly sure what that will be, but I love the sport and want to grow in the sport, and make it even better. I guess we’ll see. For now though, I will be swimming for several years so that will be my focus.
19. What’s your attitude toward the quad now and 2020 since you know this time around that you can make International meets -- and medal and set records there when you do?
Mallory: Well, I am definitely excited. My attitude towards it is to take it one day at a time. I want to continue to enjoy it. I have fallen love in with this sport.
20. A lot of days and a lot of sets and a lot of ups and downs, how do you manage that?
Mallory: There are hard days where training isn’t perfect and it’s hard, but I still enjoy being around these people -- especially on those days. I love watching the girls on the team succeed and get better and better. As long as I am enjoying that and love the process, things will continue to go well. College season is way different from long-course season. But it’s a nice change of pace and a way to stay motivated and enjoy the sport. And I just love to race.