Bates’ four-year wonder

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LEWISTON — Signing on for the year-round commitment of playing field hockey and lacrosse while tackling the rigorous academic program at Bates College wasn’t enough for Katelyn Drake.

More autumn days than not during her first semester, Drake found herself swimming laps in Tarbell Pool during her lunch hour.

Coaches recruited her for the other two sports. Prospective teammates targeted her for the third.

“People saw my Facebook profile, so I kept getting messages from the (swim) team periodically,” Drake said. “I was never really serious about it, but then, I played three sports in high school so it wasn’t really a big deal to me. It wasn’t a big, stressful decision, I just decided I’d go for it.”

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Drake, her school and its challenging conference each are dramatically richer for that choice.

At the New England Small College Athletic Conference championship meet last weekend, Drake was named the league’s Four-Year High Point Swimmer. That title is presented to the senior who chalks up the most individual points in her four trips to the NESCAC showcase.

Call it a career achievement award. And what a career it has been. Drake, of Hudson, Ohio, owns the Bates record in all three backstroke events and shares the school’s all-time standard as part of four different relay teams.

Not bad for a walk-on.

“What makes this really special is that four or five of the top 15 teams in the country are in this conference. The depth of NESCAC is unparalleled around the country as far as a conference is concerned,” said Bates coach Peter Casares. “As someone that was recruited to play lacrosse, with coaches that spend just as much time training as they do recruiting in this conference, it was quite an accomplishment for her to out-perform all of her peers.”

Drake was a decorated swimmer in high school and exhibited that raw talent as a freshman.

When Casares took over the helm at the start of Drake’s sophomore season, however, his veiled compliment and subsequent technical advice provided the push she needed to plunge from promise into excellence.

“You said I was an ugly swimmer, basically,” Drake reminded Casares with a laugh on Wednesday.

“My quote after her first practice was, ‘If you can go that fast swimming like that, you’re going to be really good.’ And she looked at me like, ‘Is that a compliment or not?’ ” Casares recalled. “And it was, because she was swimming times that were impressive, but there were a lot of things she could improve upon. That got me excited.”

Two seconds fell from Drake’s 200-yard backstroke time as a sophomore, sealing a berth at nationals and her first All-America honor.

Drake duplicated the All-America status at the 100-yard distance as a junior.

“That’s what happens in this sport. A little bit of success can inspire you to continue the dedication that’s needed to have a culmination like she did at the meet where you are the senior high-point award winner,” Casares said. “And she’s done it all four years. Never had an off year. Never gave into the excuses that most college kids at the Division III level do.”

Not that anyone would begrudged Drake if she decided to scale back her schedule at any time.

Drake walked away from field hockey after one season. But like most college sports, swimming and lacrosse are year-round endeavors.

Each fall, she balanced pool and weight room time while working out with the lacrosse team three nights a week. Two days after the final swim of her career, Drake was on the field Tuesday for a lacrosse scrimmage.

All that while maintaining a 3.8 GPA and claiming three Academic All-America honors.

“I didn’t even remember that the award existed,” Drake said of the high-point designation. “When you think of the past and the person that wins it, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, duh, they’ve won all three of their events every year.’ And I’ve never done that. I’ve never won an event. I’ve just been on the podium all four years.”

Drake didn’t qualify for the NCAA meet this season.

In light of the league award and her spring aspirations, however, her silver medal and new school record in the 50-yard sprint along with two fourth-place swims combined with the four-year laurels to weave the perfect postscript to her career.

“Nationals is a great event. You’re almost embarrassed a little because you’ve been there two years and you’re sort of expected to go again,” said Drake. “But I think it was almost better ending it this way on such a high note. It still would have been awesome to go, but I didn’t feel this burning desire to prove myself anymore, because I had this.”

Drake’s take didn’t end there. The groundswell of good news got even better Tuesday, when she was offered a job teaching and coaching swimming and lacrosse at Culver Academy, a prep school in Indiana.

“That success in several different areas shows you why she won this four-year thing. Because she has a vision for how the year’s going to go and how to stay consistent,” Casares said. “It’s not, ‘I’m going to crash and burn and try to do more than I can.’ It’s ‘this is how I’m going to do it,’ and she makes it a reality. Most people have goals that are hopes. This award was really just another example of that belief in herself.”

koakes@sunjournal.com

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