The University of Maine wasn’t Peter Tirabassi’s first choice. And early on in his first season with the Black Bears’ swimming and diving team, the former Lewiston High School star wasn’t even sure it was the right choice.

Those concerns have now been extinguished and Tirabassi has realized that Maine is where he belongs.

“I think last year was definitely an adjustment period from training on a high school and club team to going to a Division I team,” Tirabassi, now a sophomore, said. “So I was definitely a little intimidated by it when I first showed up, but you realize I’m supposed to be here and I can do the sets.”

Tirabassi didn’t head to Orono completely unaware of what to expect, as his high school coach, Dustin Carrier, also swam at Maine, so some of the practice routines were similar. But Tirabassi found out that the intensity level, as well as college life in general, were a whole new world for him.

“It always takes a while to find your place on campus or on a team,” Maine head coach Susan Lizotte said. “He’s definitely found his way outside of the pool and inside of the pool this year.”

The Black Bears have only participated in one meet so far this season, but it’s enough to show tangible evidence that Tirabassi has improved. In his first collegiate meet against Rhode Island last year, Tirabassi swam a 1:04.95 in the 100-yard breaststroke — his signature event. This year against the same team, he finished in 1:01.77.

“He’s way ahead of where he was last year in the first meet,” Lizotte said. “And I foresee that he’s going to continue to drop his time and do well this entire year.”

Tirabassi said the moment he realized he belonged on the team was at the Wheaton Invitational, when he won both the 100 and 200 breaststrokes. He also qualified for the ECAC Championships with his winning times.

“That’s when I realized I’m probably going to be able to hold my own weight on this team,” Tirabassi said.

Weight is a fitting term for Tirabassi to use, as he focused more on weight training this summer than his craft in the pool. Lizotte said he’s bought into the weight-training program more than others have.

“I made some good gains, and it’s showing in the pool this year,” Tirabassi said.

Now Tirabassi is starting to show the promise that Lizotte saw while scouting him during his days at Lewiston, where she noticed both “a beautiful stroke” and “a next level.”

The latter is what Tirabassi is really starting to show. Lizotte said he looks “like a whole, new person.”

“He was timid last year … and quieter,” Lizotte said. “Now this year, it’s like ‘I am Peter Tirabassi, come and get me’-type thing. He’s just confident in what he’s doing. He knows what he has to do.”

Tirabassi said his personal focus is just to keep dropping his times in the breaststroke — the event that “just works” for him. As far as the team goes, Tirabassi said the Black Bears want a better showing than the 10th-place finish they had at last year’s ECAC meet.

Tirabassi said there’s some pressure to do well being a Maine kid swimming for the state’s lone Division I program. But with that pressure comes “a lot more pride when you win.”

Win is something that Lizotte sees much more of out of Tirabassi as his career at Maine continues.

“If he continues to get stronger in the weight room, and continues to practice the way that he has been practicing, he will have two more years after this one of getting faster and faster,” Lizotte said.

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