Feb. 16, 2013
They fuel each other.
Every set, workout, game, contest and race, they make each other better with their friendly competition.
With the postseason looming in the lanes of the pool, Florida State swimmers sophomore Kaitlyn Dressel and junior Tiffany Oliver plan finish the season "stroke-for-stroke" at the 2013 NCAA Championships in Indianapolis, Ind. March 21-23.
Working together has lifted both Oliver and Dressel into the elite level of college swimming. Oliver is fifth in the 50 and sixth in the 100 free in the nation while Dressel is listed as the 12th fastest in the 100 distance. With times of sub- 49 seconds in the 100 free, each are among the company of Olympic gold Medalists Allison Schmidt (Georgia) and Lauren Perdue (Virginia).
"The beauty of their relationship is when you have great athletes that swim the same events it relieves them of the pressure of trying to win all the time," head coach Neil Harper said. "Both Tiffany and Kaitlyn are extremely competitive in nature and they both hate to lose, but not at each other. They respect one another and they're great friends."
They have buoyed the Seminoles this season, playing vital roles in each win including their upset against a Florida Gators team that has been ranked as high as No. 1 this season. Oliver and Dressel bring a dimension to the pool that most teams dream to have. In dual meets, head coach Neil Harper can count on a victory, or a one-two punch from Oliver and Dressel in the 50 and 100 freestyle as they have accounted for wins in every race this season in those events.
Not to mention the roles they play on relays.
"In the meet against UF we needed one of them to step up and win their races," Harper said. "We knew we could put one on the end of that medley relay, put the other in the 200 and both in the 50 and 100. If we were going to take on Florida - putting two to try and win sure beats just having one. You know if one of them did their best and it wasn't enough, well maybe the others would be. But during that meet and the whole season, they took the pressure off one another and were able to win their races."
As one of the top recruits in the fall of 2011, she advanced to the Championship final in the 100 free at her first ACC Championships. In addition, she scored points in the 50 free and 100 breast and contributed on a pair of scoring relays.
Dressel's 49.26 100 free as a rookie just missed the NCAA Championship invitation. After coming that close in her first try, Dressel shifted her focus to the summer and stayed in Tallahassee to train with FSU associate head coach Andy Robins.
"Before I came to college, all of my coaches kept quitting on me," Dressel said. "Finally coming here and being able to put all of my trust into Andy makes me more confident and I feel like I can be both sarcastic and serious with him. He understands me and the rest of the group and he's a coach that really knows his swimmers."
Robins' swimmers have success in the pool mainly because he's such a loyal and caring coach. His sincerity and dedication is something that Dressel knew she could count on in order to be a better swimmer. Knowing that his door was always open put her at ease - very unlike the past.
As head of one of the best sprinting groups in the nation, Robins, the 17 - year veteran has coached nine individual ACC Champions in the 50 and 100 free events, while guiding 12 relays to ACC championships in the 200 and 400 free relays. He's also coached numerous All-Americans, including the men's 400 free relay in 2012 - all of which are back and on top of the NCAA in 2013.
Under his instruction, Dressel was one of 19 FSU swimmers (as was Oliver) who participated at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb. She raced in both the 50 and 100 free, touching the wall with a career best time of 56.36 in the 100.
Dressel returned to campus ready for another season and really, she started off on fire, winning her first three attempts in the 50 free, however her breakout race was when she won the 200 free against Florida.
Seemingly, every time Dressel dives in the water she keeps getting faster. She has already recorded new career best times in the 50, 100 and 200 free, all being swum at the Georgia Tech Invite back in November of 2012.
Dressel has seen the most improvement in the 200 free dropping about six seconds in the race from the start of her college career.
But, the biggest difference in her times wasn't anything in her diet or in her training, or her coach, but her teammate.
"I promise you, if Tiffany wasn't here I wouldn't be that fast," Dressel said.
From the start of her freshman year back in 2010, Oliver was the top sprinter on the FSU swim team. Recently, she became the fastest sprinter in Seminole history after she broke the 50, 100 and 200 free records at the Georgia Tech Invite.
She even broke the oldest breakable record in the books that was set back before the invention of technical suits in 2001 by Christy Cech.
As a freshman, the Southwest Ranches, Fla. native was adopted into a major role of the 400 free relay. Along with C.J. Hendry, Holly Mills and Brittany Selts, the foursome set a new school record at 3:19.67.
During that season, Oliver was embraced by her teammates because of her humbleness and her speed and she felt they were able to show her the way. Even as a freshman, Oliver felt comfortable enough to break the 100 free record with a 49.26 - a mark that was set in 2006 by Carrie Ellis.
But after one season, those three ladies had graduated leaving Oliver with the reigns of the group.
"I felt more alone for most of my sophomore year because Kaitlyn and I didn't really know each other at first," Oliver said. "Those older girls had graduated. It was so individualistic for me and I could feel a little more pressure."
In the thick of her second season, Oliver thought that she was alone. Before she came to college, she had people to look up to, challenge her and teach her lessons and during her rookie year, she found that comfort in her relay team.
Prior to her days at FSU, one of those ladies that showed her the ropes was Alia Atkinson, who placed fourth in the 100 breast at the 2012 Olympic Games for Jamaica. Atkinson is a few years older than Oliver however both were close teammates on South Florida Aquatics. As a mentor and a friend, Atkinson brought that fun and quirky energy to the pool in addition to her work ethic - the type of person that Oliver thrives off of. But even when Atkinson went off to Texas A&M, Oliver still had someone to push her.
Just before the calendar turned to 2012, Oliver started to notice Dressel as she wasn't a shy freshman that was finding her groove. Knowing that Dressel was up to the task of the challenger with a quirky twist, Oliver found her new comfort.
With that new found niche, Oliver new she would be pushed to be a better teammate. Her role as the fastest female, would take a backseat knowing what she could accomplish with a challenging force by her side.
"We decided to work together," Oliver said. "Because of that, I think this year holds so much more for us than last year."
Putting it All Together
After Oliver qualified for the NCAA Championships last year, the two made a pact - take NCAA's, together by storm. In fact, the pair made such a big impact on each other, they've streamlined the 400 free relay to a brink of an NCAA berth and they very well could challenge the record that Oliver was a part of during her rookie season.
"We decided that we needed to step our game up and work together," Oliver said. "We push each other and set examples. We want to try and make a great relay and get to NCAA's. We want as many ladies to get to the meet as possible."
This competition is fierce between these two. Whether it's in the pool, weight room or during a game of "Ninja" - a game that is played with some of their teammates before practices or meets, Dressel finds that motivation in Oliver and Tiffany looks to Kaitlyn to take the pressure off in races.
"It's the perfect combination," Dressel said. "Sometimes I will be way too hyper or nervous at meets and Tiffany brings that serious side and puts me into check like `we're about to race. Focus.' She brings that intensity and calmness to the pool. I don't think of it as helping her out but we balance each other out in that sense."
As friendly foes, their times are most deserving of an invitation to the NCAA Championships, but first, the two are locked and loaded for ACC's, which start on Feb. 20. But no matter the meet, whether its practice or the biggest race of their lives, they'll continue racing each other, and whoever wins, wins.
"We help each other in and out of the pool and when we race it's all friendliness aside," Oliver said. "We both want to win and it's natural but it's not that harsh. We're happy for each other, but our main goal is to make a statement at NCAA's. Plus, we know that we're right there with some of the fastest girls in the nation and we'd rather beat them."
Although their main objective is to tear up NCAA's, the pair still are looking for that podium berth at ACC's or perhaps a gold medal in the sprint events - something that has eluded the FSU women's swimming program since 2006. Not to mention that was the year the Seminoles captured their only ACC title.
"We have a saying - `we got heart' and really that tells us that we want it more than how we feel." Dressel said. "We're not going to feel the best at ACC's, but we know what our goals are and we both want the podium."
Oliver, a serious calm and chill record setter. Dressel, the hyper, improved challenger. Both are ready for battle. In just a few short days, we'll see just what they're made as the ACC Championships run Feb. 20 -23.