HUNTINGTON — Kacey Preun’s goal for Marshall at this week’s Conference USA Swimming and Diving Championships may seem daunting: for every member of her team to turn in a career-best performance. But she’s confident the Herd can pull it off.
“I have never before been this excited for a meet,” said Preun, a sophomore. “We are going to do amazing things, I just know it. It’s showing in our practices, both individually and in the team events.
“All the hard work and the time we’ve invested this year will show up at the Conference USA meet. We know it.”
The championships run from Wednesday through Saturday in Houston.
Preun, who hails from St. Andrews, Manitoba, is pushing herself to help lead the way toward that end. It won’t be easy for someone who holds Marshall’s top active times in freestyle events ranging from 200 yards to the mile, in the 200 breaststroke, the 200 and 400 individual medley and also as a part of a few relay teams.
As a nursing student who often spends much of her week off campus at Cabell Huntington Hospital, Preun is accustomed to the hours of work and preparation needed to reach her goals.
“It makes for long days, but I love swimming and I love nursing and it’s all worth it,” she said. “Because of my school and the times I’m required to be at the hospital, I have to come train by myself on Mondays and Wednesdays after everybody else has finished.
“Or on other days I might have to come do distance training for two hours early in the morning, and then go to the hospital for four hours, grab something to eat and come back in the afternoon to go to class … then studying and everything else, too.”
Preun came to Marshall knowing she wanted a medical career of some sort, inspired by an aunt who is a nurse. The long hours required of nursing students combined with the rigors of being a student-athlete didn’t deter her.
“I don’t get to take naps anymore,” she laughed. “As swimmers we get up early and train, then we have classes and everything, but we fit in a nap somewhere to make up for it.
“But not with this schedule. So at the end of an especially long day I might ask myself why I’m doing all this, the answer is that I love all these things and wouldn’t want to give them up.
“Nursing is going to be a great career for me and I only have two more years to swim and I want to make all of that I possibly can.”
That’s the case, even though she knows her hours are only going to get longer and more demanding.
“We’re at the hospital every other week right now, but by the end of the semester we’ll be there every single week,” Preun said. “That means I’m assigned a patient at the hospital and go there with them one day that week. But in addition to that, we go there the day before to get all the information and do the pre-planning, which takes the whole day.
“My day with the patient is Thursdays, so all day Wednesday is preparing and making sure I’m ready to do things right. It’s spent getting that patient’s information, then putting together the proper plan for how to treat them. So you put that together and turn it in to make sure it’s right, then you actually carry it all through on Thursday.”
The difficulty level for this year was bumped up a notch due to a coaching change, meaning Preun and her teammates had to get to know a new staff led by veteran Coach Bill Tramel.
“It was hard at the beginning of the year because we had the new coach and a new way of doing things,” Preun said. “But we’ve had time to get used to that and we’ve come a long way.
“As our season went on, we began seeing improvement in the different meets we competed in, and that kept giving us more and more confidence that what we are doing is working.
“I look back and see how a time improved in the last competition and I know, ‘This is working, and I know I’ll do even better because I’ve put in even that much more work since then.’”
Preun’s personal goals include turning in an NCAA-qualifying time in the mile freestyle, and she thinks this season’s work under the new staff has made that realistic.
“The focus and work has been on improving different skills and techniques,” she said. “For instance, if I’ve been using a short, choppy stroke, and then I’m taught to lengthen and smooth out my stroke, and I practice and get better at that – in a distance event, just think how many of those strokes add up, each one helping improve my time a little.
“You’re that much more efficient, which means you have that much more energy at the end part of the race, especially for me when I’m swimming the mile.
“Things like that, things like breathing patterns, streamlining your turns – in distance events, if you’re a little better in each of those things, because you repeat them all so often, it makes a big difference in your time.”
Even if an NCAA time doesn’t come quite yet, Preun will know Marshall is on the right path if she and her teammates reach that main goal.
“Sure we’d like to move higher in the team point totals than we ever have before,” she said. “But if we all go out there and do better than we have in our events, that would show a whole lot for a year with a new coach and all the change.
“If we all finish the year with personal bests, it would just reinforce how we’re on the right track and have everyone excited to come back and do even more and better things next year.”
It’s all about creating a winning attitude within the program.
“What we needed to learn this year, and what we’re in the process of learning, is to be confident swimmers,” Preun said. “We want to even have some confident arrogance.
“We want to go out there thinking, ‘I’m going to rock your socks. I’m going to fly right by you.’ If we can all do better this week than we ever have before, it sets us up to keep building that attitude within our team.”