Not all losses in the NCAA tournament are crushing.
At least, it wasn’t for swimmer Molly Kowal of Ohio State University.
While South Jersey’s Steve Vasturia of Notre Dame and Tim Delaney of Villanova both sadly bowed out of the basketball tourney on Saturday with the Irish and Wildcats being knocked out in the second round, Kowal was pleased with her efforts in the swimming championships over the weekend even though she didn’t win either.
“Yeah I had a lot of fun,” said Kowal, a freshman who lives in Merchantville and swam in high school for Nazareth Academy in Philadelphia. “It was exciting.
“I was a little nervous because the NCAAs are one of the fastest meets in the world, even as fast as the Olympics and Olympic trials.”
The experience was enjoyable outside of the pool, too, since Kowal saw familiar faces from watching the 2016 Olympics in Brazil on TV.
“It was crazy to see a lot of the people who were in the Olympics because they are still in college and they were all at the NCAAs, so it was a very fast meet,” she said
“I was happy just to be able to go and swim.”
Kowal competed in three events in the NCAA Championships, helping the Buckeyes to 19th place for Ohio State’s second straight Top 20 finish.
However, Kowal didn’t post her best times.
“I think of how big the meet was probably got in my head a little bit and made me more nervous than I usually get before races,” Kowal said.
On Thursday, Kowal made her NCAA debut in Indianapolis with a 4:42.57 in the 500 freestyle.
“I was happy with that one,” Kowal said Sunday afternoon back at school in Columbus. “It was actually my second best time ever, so it was a good time for me.
“So I was happy with that one.”
On Friday, she raced in the 400 individual medley and posted a 4:16.32.
“It was like three seconds off my best time,” Kowal said. “I can’t say I was happy with that one.”
Then, on the last day Saturday, Kowal competed in her signature event, the 1650 freestyle and clocked a 16:14.57. However, her top time in the 1650 free is 16:02.35.
“The time was off my best,” Kowal said. “I wasn’t real happy with my time, but I was happy to have the opportunity to be swimming and to learn what I did wrong for the next time so I can improve and try to get faster than my best time.”
One of the ways that she is looking to improve is how she practices leading into major events.
“I was tapered for the Big 10,” Kowal said about the conference championships in mid-February. “The goal was for me to taper back for the NCAAs, but I guess I had a better taper for the Big 10 since I had a better Big 10 than the NCAAs.
“It’s hard to know what I did wrong or what I could’ve done better.”
Although Kowal swam for the Jersey Wahoos out of Mt. Laurel, she was really outside the South Jersey scholastic radar since she swam at Nazareth.
Her twin sister, Grace, also attended Nazareth and finished her freshman season swimming at Virginia Tech. Grace competed in the 200 freestyle, 500 free and 1650 free for the Hokies.
“She had a good year,” Molly said. “I was proud of her.”
Grace flew out to surprise her sister at the NCAA Championships.
“It was really nice,” Molly said. “It was so exciting.”
Molly said splitting up from her sister and going to different colleges was very difficult.
“We shared a room until we were sophomores in high school, and even then she would come in my room to do homework,” Molly said.
Kowal said during the recruiting process she felt comfortable talking with the Ohio State coaches and then felt the same comfort level on her recruiting visiting.
“I liked the atmosphere and the work ethic of the team and I really fit in well with them,” Molly said.
Molly was an All-District honoree all four years at Nazareth and two-time All-State, where she competed in the 200 IM and the 200 breaststroke.
“In high school, they don’t have the longer events,” Molly said.
She was a member of the Wahoos for 12 years, winning Most Outstanding Swimmer four times and National Swimmer of the Year three times.
Last summer, she was an Olympic Trials qualifier in the 400 IM.
“It was just really cool to compete at such a high level meet and to see all the famous names and to be able to watch them swim,” Kowal said. “It was a good experience for me because I had never been to a meet of that caliber before.
“It was just cool because I would be walking on the pool deck and Michael Phelps would walk by.”
The next Olympics in 2020 are the summer after Kowal’s senior season.
“It would be awesome,” she said about swimming in the Olympics, “but I think for me, my biggest goals are swimming for Ohio State and focusing on lowering my times and to repeat or do better than I did this year and go back to the NCAAs and to improve on what I did this year.”
Kowal feels her best event is the 1650 free.
“I definitely like the mile the best,” she said. “But at Ohio State I will focus on all three events.”
Swimming is such a part of her routine that Kowal won’t take a long rest.
“I will get a week off now, it will be nice and I will be able to get some of my school work done,” Kowal said. “But I know by the end of the week I will be dying to get back in the water.”