Each week, the Tallahassee Democrat will feature a Q&A with a former prep athlete in the Tallahassee area. Alex Merritt, a former Lincoln High swimmer, is gearing up for her senior year at Auburn University. Merritt was a four-time All-Big Bend Swimmer of the Year for the Trojans from 2008-11, a four-time state champion, and the No. 4 swimming recruit in the state of Florida coming out of high school.
Merritt, who recently returned to swim in ATAC’s Long Course Invitational, fielded questions from us on just what it is like to swim at a powerhouse program as recent five-time NCAA champion Auburn has.
Question: You were coming out of high school as a big recruit. Was it ever a scary feeling trying to live up to expectations?
Answer: “I think I was more excited more than anything. I knew I wasn’t going to be the fastest coming in, but I knew that the coaches saw great potential in me. I was just excited to get in there, start a different training style and see how much faster I could get.”
Q: How much faster do you think you have gotten since high school?
A: “Oh, I have definitely dropped a lot of time since going to Auburn. My 200 butterfly has gotten about 3.5 seconds faster. I’m very happy with the results I’ve gotten so far.”
Q: Swimming is often about incremental gains, and I’m sure it’s hard to be patient as that’s happening. Is that hard to be patient to wait three years to drop 3.5 seconds?
A: “Yes, it has been. This year, I didn’t see as big of a drop coming in as I did freshman and sophomore year. My third year, definitely saw some smaller drops. At this point in my career, any little hundredth of a second is a great accomplishment to me. If I can get a best time even by .01, I’m happy.”
Q: You got to make NCAAs three years in a row. Is that a nerve-wrecking meet?
A: “I would say SEC championships are pretty much just as nerve-wrecking, but NCAAs is just a whole other experience. You have all the best swimmers in the country, the best swimmers in the world really if you are at the Division-I level (even Division-II and III have great swimmers too). NCAAs is more of a time to relax, have fun, and just try to get the same time you did at the conference championship. It was a great experience and I’m very lucky I got to go all three years so far.”
Q: Your conference experiences seem very different, in that your sophomore year you bust out and drop a 1:56 in the 200 fly and then last year you were four seconds slower. What’s the difference between those two years?
A: “I changed my training up just a little bit. I develop muscle a lot more than the average swimmer, I would say. My freshman and sophomore season I packed on the muscle mass from weight training. We saw my times decrease and we wanted even more drops. This past season, we tried a new route – less weight to lean me out for that 200 butterfly. We tried a little less muscle mass to see if I could get on top of the water more. It didn’t turn out as well as we wanted it to. I think this season we are going back to the old weight room training and get all that muscle mass back. I have been doing that since I’ve been home, so I am happy with that. I would say the difference in training hurt me a little bit. I am glad that I got out of the way before my senior year so that way I can have the best senior year possible.”
Q: That seems to be a good change since you seem to be a workout fiend anyway. Is that something that you really love doing?
A: “Yes, I love the weight room. Lifting weights is my happy place. You have to get the work done in the pool, but the weight room is where I am myself the most, I would say.”
Q: What have you set your expectations for your senior year?
A: “I would say definitely top eight in my butterfly events at SEC’s and make it back to top 16 in NCAAs. Scoring some points for the team is the ultimate goal.”
Q: Your team won its last national championship in 2007, so I’m sure that’s a goal as well?
A: “Yes, definitely. They need more banners up in the pool.”
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