Junior Swimmer Tim Manzella on the Sport of Swimming and Student-Athlete Life at Holy Cross

Patrick Grudberg ‘24

Staff Writer

Swimming is one of the most difficult, grueling sports out there. Take it from my own personal experience; I swam at a rather low level of competition and only during my freshman year in high school. And, I can guarantee that any of those high school practices were more demanding and taxing than almost any of my high school soccer practices. On the totem pole of general knowledge about the sport itself here at Holy Cross, it honestly sits pretty low. You may know the very basics, the types of strokes, the racing aspect. But what about the experience swimming at the division one level here at Holy Cross? I sat down with my good friend Tim Manzella, a junior on the swim team, to learn more about what it’s like to swim at the collegiate level.

A coach can make or break one’s experience playing a sport. You may love your teammates and the thrill of competing, but a bad coach can take all the joy out of it. This year, Holy Cross experienced a coaching change that, according to Tim, has seriously improved his experience on the team. Coach Kristy Jones is in her first year as swim and dive coach at the College, and she’s implemented a totally new culture of energetic and fun yet competitive swimming to the team. Swimmers get to control the music at practices, making the grueling sets more manageable. Her unwavering enthusiasm and support during practices and meets has brought the team morale up. And maybe most importantly, she knows what it’s like to be a student-athlete swimming at a high level: Coach Jones was a standout swimmer at the University of Indiana, captaining the squad her senior year and even qualifying for olympic trials in the early 2000s. Empathizing with your players is one of the most underrated skills a coach can bring, and it seems like Coach Jones has done just that.

While swimming is a team sport, with men’s and women’s teams dueling with other schools for meet victories, the sport is inherently an individual one. Later this week, Holy Cross swimmers will compete against other Patriot League squads at League Championships, but they’ll also be racing against their own teammates. Tim explained to me that this involves a balance between winning races and setting personal best times. Someone can finish first in a race but finish four seconds slower than their personal best. Conversely, one can finish fourth but break their best time by two seconds. In some ways, a swimmer’s greatest opponent is looking back at them in the mirror. You’re racing the ghosts of your own previous times, often making the sport more mental than physical.

Anyone who’s played a sport in high school or currently plays one in college knows the tradeoffs of the structured, routine-based student-athlete life. And while you’d think the business of swim season might hinder one’s academic obligations, Tim said it actually helps a great deal. During the season, he thinks most swimmers do their best academically. You know that you only have ‘x’ amount of time or ‘y’ window of time to complete your work, pushing you to complete work more efficiently and on a consistent schedule. The offseason comes with more downtime and gaps for free time. As we all know, free time can often lead to procrastination. So when you know you’ve only got a two hour window to complete some class readings, you can’t push them off until later in the day.

Does the everyday student or sports fan truly understand the rigors and demands of swimming? I would argue not. Tim said that people are coming around on giving the sport its due credit for how challenging it is, but the perception that other sports are more difficult still exists. He summarized it best with a quote from a former coach: swimmers will swim more yards than a football player will ever run for in their careers, kick more than a soccer player ever will, and swing their arms more times than a baseball player will ever swing a bat. It truly is the best full body exercise out there. If you still aren’t sure, go swim ten laps and tell me how your body feels the next day. I’m sure you’ll quickly give Tim Manzella and the entire swim team the credit they deserve.

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