March 17, 2014
The games of “ninja” are far more intense.
Conversations feel like siblings chatting with a big dose of conformity to them.
They’re two people that are more than teammates and for three years they’ve made each other into the best swimmers a team could ask for.
The road to the meet is half-traveled following another successful ACC Championships.
A senior from Southwest Ranches, Fla., Oliver closed out her ACC career by becoming the first Seminole to defend her sprinting titles at the Championship Meet. She won the 50 with a personal best of 22.02 before conquering the 100 with a time of 48.54.
On the other hand, Dressel had a little different experience, but it was the first time she had ever competed in all ‘A’ finals at the meet. She first earned her spot in the final heat in a swim off, posting a career best in the 50 free of 22.27 before taking sixth in the 100 at 49 and seventh in the 200 free.
Last season, this pair emerged and relied on each other for their triumphs and they pulled each other up from the low’s, but this year that fuel has turned into friendship and sisterhood all while setting records, winning ACC medals and preparing for their final test at the end of this week.
In her first two years in the Garnet and Gold, Oliver’s abilities showed a lot of promise, but when it came time for the big meets, she couldn’t shift into that extra gear.
Prior to the 2012-13 season, Oliver felt the pressure to perform because she was the only sprinter really capable of making an impact individually and on relays, but when Dressel started turning up towards the end of the 2011-12 year, that pressure evaporated. And when Dressel’s personality was unleashed, the atmosphere was at its best in a relaxed state. With her whimsical and goofy nature, Dressel really makes the world more fun. She puts the fun in the sport and aside from her speed that might be the greatest affect she has on Oliver.
A four-time ACC champion – better believe Oliver found that gear once Dressel was added.
“Earlier in my career it felt like the fun aspect of the sport just wasn’t here,” Oliver said. “It wasn’t bad but it just added to the pressure to perform.”
If you’re a sprinter, it’s all about racing. Think of those 50 and 100 free specialists as racehorses – they just race, they perfect the tiny tactics and they just give it all the got for such little time and for Oliver that pressure she felt on her shoulders just didn’t work for her.
Every day in practice, Dressel and Oliver refuel that fire to race. No matter if it’s a 25 or a 200, they race.
“People get mad at us in practice because there will be times we’ll do sprints and we’ll have to rearrange the lanes so we’re next to each other. But it benefits us.”
Even if they’re playing “Hothands” it’s still a race — with more focus, reaction and of course laughter.
“Hothands is a way for us to be completive with each other outside of the pool in a very stupid way,” Dressel said “It takes our mind off our races, but keeps us in the zone.”
And after she found that state of tranquility on the big stage, Oliver rewrote the FSU history books as she owns the 50 and 100 free marks on top of four relay records -- all were set at the 2014 ACC Championships.
But heading into her final NCAA Championships, Oliver hopes to have her best meet yet. At the 2012 Championships, Oliver may have had her worst meet of the season, but not all was lost after taking away the experience as it helped her achieved a 10th place finish in the 50 free at the 2013 meet, but still it wasn’t her best.
“Every year at NCAA’s I keep getting better in terms of what to expect. Hopefully I won’t be as nervous. I remember my first year I was taking it all in and then last year I got a little more comfortable – it wasn’t my best but I got into the flow. This year, I don’t know how it’s going to go, but right now I feel relaxed and ready to go faster and we have a great group of people going. It’s going to be fun.”
At the start of the 2013-14 season, it looked like Dressel’s time to shine as she was named ACC Swimmer of the Week following the All-Florida Invite where she turned in a pair of victories in the sprint races -- all while breaking the 50-second barrier three times in the 100 free.
“I always have fast meets at Florida. I don’t know, maybe it’s because my family is there or I just love racing them.” Dressel said.
As a native of the Jacksonville, Fla. area, Dressel comes from a very tight-knight family as she is the oldest of three. Next year, she will most likely step up her game when facing Florida as her younger brother Caeleb will be joining the Gators in the fall.
But after that meet, Dressel got caught up with the pressures of being a student-athlete and with the transition of the team causing her mental focus to drift. Even though her and Oliver would trade off victories at meets, Dressel had to battle her mind on a daily basis.
“There were some practices I would go in and go through the motions because I’d be so stressed or whatever it is, but Tiff would help me through it,” Dressel said. “She’d put humor into it and gave me a taste of my own medicine a little bit. This season has been tough mentally and going through a few things and towards the end of it I’m happy with how things are turning out.”
But once she got out of the woods, Dressel knew what she needed to do when the calendar turned to February and even though she was coached differently throughout the process, she still set herself up to have a solid ACC meet even though her times weren’t where she would have hoped and that’s thanks to the coaching change.
“Mentally, Coach Bradley has helped,” Dressel said. “The biggest challenge for me has been that mental aspect of the sport – not fully believing in myself or not doing enough training or whatever it was and Frank has this relaxing vibe about him or calming presence like ‘ You’re fine. You’re going to swim great. No big deal.’ It’s so simple and it makes you believe in yourself.”
And of course knowing that one of your best friends will always have your back no matter what.
Putting it Together for One More Time
Being a part of a collegiate swimming and diving program is closer than any fraternity or sorority in the world.
It’s a bond that will last forever. Even after the last races together, your teammates are the people that will be the ones that share every life milestone and joyous moments with you. They’re the people that you can always count on and they still understand you even when everyone else thinks you’re crazy no matter how much time has passed.
Or if you need someone to go pet cows with, you’ll have your teammates.
“We are such good friends and we just aren’t limited to being teammates. Sometimes we will just take a little road trips or go pet the cows and it’s fun.” Dressel said. “Our families have become closer. My mom is so excited to spend time with Tiffany’s mom at NCAA’s and they’ve become great friends.”
Dressel is accustomed to the outdoors as she lives on a farm outside of Jacksonville, so she knows how to hunt and fish and enjoys being outside. Oliver is an Environmental Science major.
So, for fun, the two like to get away for a few hours by taking a drive across the state line to pet a few cows.
Simply, the two balance each other out.
Aside from their love for animals, the 2013-14 season has told a different tale for the two sprinters, first starting with a coaching change which welcomed FSU alumni Frank Bradley into his first season at the helm.
“This year has been interesting – getting to know Frank and in the beginning there were a few rough patches, but I knew he was a good coach. We talked and communicated more and it’s been very beneficial this year. To sum it up, it’s been different, but it’s been the most fun year I’ve been a part of my career.” Oliver said.
Between the two, the ladies have been the rocks of the five relays, in fact they now have helped set new school records a part of each of those races. Without them, NCAA’s would seem too far of a goal.
The 200 free relay at the 2014 ACC Championships proved to the Seminoles and the conference just how valuable the pair are. With his relay seeded fifth, Bradley decided to put the two speedsters up front, while placing swimmers who are masters underwater on the back end – even though, they weren’t specialized in the 50 free.
“Good thing about swimming is everyone knows freestyle. It could have been anyone’s spot on those relays and that’s what makes it so competitive and good because everyone knows how to do it. That relay – it was fun to see McKayla (Lightbourn) and Bianca (Spinazzola) swim those underwaters. Kaitlyn and I knew we needed to get ahead so those two could get under those waves so, it helped and it was very strategic.” Oliver said.
Oliver and Dressel’s speed were counted on and they delivered as the put the Seminoles out in front whenever Spinazzola dove in the water. With Lightbourn on the anchor leg, she outlasted the rest of the field enough for silver, an NCAA ‘A’ cut and a new school record.
ACC silver. Without even swimming one race together. Not too many teams can pull that off.
“Relays this year have been so much fun because we don’t know who is going to be on them and there is so much energy involved. Being on a relay with Tiffany, the confidence is there and we’ve got such a mix on those relays, but that’s why it’s so fun and we can stay relaxed through it and then when they bust out those splits, we go crazy and we’re pumped.”
But in this final year, Oliver and Dressel brought a dimension to the pool that helped make every day seem better, more fun and electric. And even though they are two swimmers with two different personalities, they’ve been training partners for three years.
“We have a healthy friendship now. At first we didn’t really talk to each other and now we will hang out outside of the pool and it helps to know I have a friend like her and we room together on road trips. I am going to miss her.” Oliver said.
It’s easy for Oliver to say that should wouldn’t have had the success as a Seminole without Dressel, but it’s really uncertain to what could have been if Dressel didn’t turn up.
“Like my mom says – the ‘if’ questions, I don’t have to think about them. I have no idea how it would have turned out. Maybe I wouldn’t have been this fast but all I know is she made it way more fun and more enjoyable and easier and I thank her for that because she’s like my sister.”
Following the NCAA meet, Dressel will be on her own and at the helm of the sprint group, but it still won’t be the same.
“We’ve brought this up and it stinks. We brought it up at ACC’s and I don’t know what to say,” Dressel said. "We’ve been training with each other for three years, and it’s made practice that much harder and better and next year, I’m not going to have that. I’m sure I will find someone but it will be different. But on the last night, we were talking and Tiff said, ‘Hey, thanks for being my partner. I’m glad we made that decision,’ and I’m like, ‘Dude, we still got one more meet’ and in the sweetest way possible, it stinks knowing it’s our last one.”
Last one, fast one, for all the marbles in college swimming – Oliver and Dressel will be a part of FSU history as they being their final test together on Thursday.