September 19, 2019 | 52° F

Swimmer sets lasting example at Rutgers

The 1,650-yard freestyle was one of the most physically grueling events for the Rutgers swimming and diving team this year. The first-place finisher’s time in the race at the Big East Championships was 16:13.94.

Nicknamed by head coach Phil Spiniello as “the mile,” the race takes patience, determination and endurance, he said.

So it was not a surprise when Spiniello chose senior Michelle Berman to complete the challenge for the Scarlet Knights.

“She’s a go-getter. She attacks every set that I give her and doesn’t back down in races,” he said. “She’s a leader by example on how to swim day in and day out.”

That attitude aided Berman to complete last weekend’s race. The veteran finished in 13th place for the Knights with a time of 17:10.59.

“It is one of the most mentally hard things ever,” Berman said. “You could be so ready and so prepared but on that very day ... if your body’s not willing to do [it], it’s not going to happen.”

While the most difficult race for any swimmer is the 1,650-yard freestyle, Berman’s goal this year was not in that particular event.

The LaMirada, Calif., native’s mission was in the 500-yard freestyle, which she competed in all four years for Rutgers. Berman wanted to break five minutes at the championships. She set that finish as her goal the minute she arrived for training in her senior season.

Her seed time in the championships for the freestyle was 5:05.58, so when Berman looked up at her final result, she realized she accomplished her mark. A time of 4:59.60 flashed next to her name on the scoreboard of the Trees Pool in Pittsburgh.

“I went into the Big East with a single goal, and I surpassed that goal,” Berman said. “So for me, I was able to finish my career exactly the way that I was hoping that I would be able to.”

Spiniello witnessed the hard work Berman demonstrated every day since the coach arrived two years ago. When she tapped the wall at the championships, it brought Berman’s hard work full circle.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “It’s great to see an athlete succeed when their hard work pays off for a number of years. It was a great feeling.”

How she approached the pool during races and practices has defined her career on the Banks. While Berman has been one of the more consistent swimmers for Spiniello in his second season, it is fellow seniors Trisha Averill and Jacquelyn Ward’s names that appeared in the headlines for the Knights during their 9-2 regular season.

Averill broke the school record in the 200-yard breaststroke, while Ward has been the most successful Rutgers freestyle swimmer this season.

“I think that my entire life I’ve never been the best, and I’m OK with that,” Berman said. “It was hard, but at the same time, I just used it as motivation. I used it as motivation, and the motivation paid off.”

Spiniello knows Berman’s attitude to compete in any event was invaluable this season in the pool.

“Michelle is irreplaceable,” Spiniello said. “But hopefully what she has brought to this program over her last four years is going to last with some of the women currently on the team.”

One of those swimmers faces the task of taking up the 1,650-yard freestyle event next season.

By Bradly Derechailo

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