By Amanda Johnston
OTTAWA – Breaststroker Kierra Smith is heading into the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming Championships on a high note, and she hopes to keep it going straight through to next month’s Team Canada Trials.
Smith is one of several Canadians in action this weekend in Greensboro, N.C., as she and her University of Minnesota teammates will compete against other top colleges from around the U.S.
It’s been a big year for Smith but she hopes even bigger things are in store. Speaking of big, last month at the Big Ten Championships the 21-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., helped the University of Minnesota claim its fourth straight title with her double gold in 100- and 200-yard breaststroke events. Breaking the Big Ten record in the 200-yard with a time of 2:05:69, Smith’s 2015 season is off to a strong start.
“It’s so much fun swimming for Minnesota. It is really exciting being in these conference meets, and being in the Big Ten, one of the strongest conferences in the NCAA,” Smith said.
After a strong season in 2014, Smith made her first senior national team by capturing a second place podium finish at the 2014 Trials in the 200-m breaststroke.
Smith represented Canada at the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia and Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last year, finishing fourth in the 200 at both. Other Pan Pac teammates competing in women’s NCAA swimming include Alyson Ackman (Penn State), Marni Oldershaw (Michigan), Brooklynn Snodgrass (Indiana), Brittany MacLean and Chantal Van Landeghem (Georgia)
With a time of 2:23:32 at Pan Pacs last summer, Smith ranked seventh in the world, making her Olympic dreams a strong possibility.
“I want everything that I do to try and be higher in the world. I really organized my life around being faster in the pool: bringing everything that I could, every day to training this year.”
Breaking former teammate Haley Spencer’s Big Ten record just adds to Smith’s growing confidence. Smith is now focused on winning this weekend’s NCAAs before Team Canada Trials April 1-4 at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.
After the short-course NCAA season is over, Smith plans on getting ready for Trials with long-course training back at home in Kelowna with her Liquid Lightning Swim Club coach, Emil Dimitrov. She is hoping to continue her momentum when she hits the water in Toronto.
Smith will focus her training on getting her stroke long and limiting her splash. As her goal is to gain a spot on the Canadian Olympic team for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Smith is taking an “Olympic redshirt” season between her junior and senior year.
Canadian Olympian Annamay Pierse inspired Smith to be a world-class breaststroke swimmer. While attending a swimming training camp at the age of 14, Smith was encouraged by Pierse’s advice on her split time and future goals.
“Her paying attention to me made such a difference. Having a world record holder, in Canada, especially in B.C., made such a big difference.”
Smith hopes being totally focused and eating the right things will help her be faster.
“I am trying to let every other stress in my life not be a stress. To have a good balance between swimming and out of the pool.”