Cameron helps UGA women claim yet another NCAA crown

By on April 20, 2016

 

Warwick grad Emily Cameron, a junior on the University of Georgia women’s swimming team, shares a smile at the NCAA Division-One Championships in Atlanta, Ga. in March. (Photo by Steven Colquitt)

Warwick grad Emily Cameron, a junior on the University of Georgia women’s swimming team, shares a smile at the NCAA Division-One Championships in Atlanta, Ga. in March. (Photo by Steven Colquitt)

The University of Georgia swim team wasn’t supposed to be a serious contender for the title at the NCAA Division-One Championships from March 16-19.

That is, not based on their seeds entering the meet, anyway.

But those times didn’t factor in the Lady Bulldogs’ training. They didn’t account for the Georgia women’s heart.

And as Lititz sports fans are well aware, it is a big mistake to question Emily Cameron’s determination.

The 2013 Warwick grad, a junior at UGA, played a key role in helping the Lady Bulldogs take home their seventh NCAA crown. Georgia, the third-place finisher at the SEC Championships, finished with 414 points to hold of Stanford (395) in the McAuley Aquatic Center on the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta, Ga.

“We were projected to finish fourth,” assistant coach Stefanie Williams said. “Cal was supposed to win, Stanford, Virginia and then us. I think it speaks to their commitment all season long and not letting articles or other people tell them that they’re not going to win. It might actually kinda fuel them.”

Cameron, a seven-time PIAA gold medalist and 12-time All-American at Warwick, had plenty of fuel, for sure. She earned four-time All-American status after winning bronze in the 400 I.M. (4:03.66) and 200 free relay (1:27.53), along with placing fourth with the 400 medley relay (3:29.54) and seventh on the 200 medley relay (1:36.48). In the 200 I.M., Cameron posted the third-fastest time in UGA women’s swim history while taking 11th (1:55.80) and claiming Honorable Mention All-American.

This was the second NCAA title in three years for Cameron, who also contributed to the crown in her freshman season in 2014.

“I think finally I’m starting to wind down from it, but it only took, like, three or four weeks,” she laughed. “It was a lot different than my freshman year. My freshman year, I just barely snuck in qualifying with the team, and I didn’t score any points when I was there. And this year was a whole heck of a lot different of an experience.”

In 2014, Georgia expected to win.

This season, there were question marks.

“If you had asked us back in August if we were going to win, we’d have said, ‘Heck no,’” Cameron said. “But we evolved as a team over the past six or seven months and that’s what hard work brings you … We have come so far as a team that when we walked into that pool, we knew something special was going to happen.”

As Williams attests, Cameron was a huge part of that process for the Lady Bulldogs.

“Emily was a gigantic player for us,” said Williams, a 28-time Georgia All-American and four-time National champ who hails from Bloomsburg. “It’s contagious when you train with people and you see them going lifetime bests or swimming really well, it gets you amped up because maybe you’re beating that person or you’re up next to them every day. I would say just (Emily’s attitude and her effort and her sheer determination just to get up and race is very contagious. It just helped the rest of the young ladies with her events in the 200 I.M. and in the relays. That 400 I.M. was huge for us.”

She dropped more than two seconds off her seed time in the 400 I.M. (4:05.91) and bettered her 200 I.M. (1:56.91) by over one second.

But Cameron’s contributions in the 200 free relay can’t be overlooked, either. The Georgia coaches considered not even entering a team in that event. Outside of pure sprinter Olivia Smoliga, there were questions whether the Lady Bulldogs could form a relay which could place in the top eight.

“We were going to scrap it,” Williams said.

But Smoliga, Cameron, Hershey product Meaghan Raab and Kylie Stewart had other ideas, finishing second in the prelims in 1:27.53

“We were like, ‘OK, if we get eighth, we’re going to throw some bodies up there and just get points,’ because we didn’t want another race to get the kids tired,” Williams said. “Then we ended up getting second in the morning, and we were like, ‘Well, we can’t scrap it.’”

If they had scrapped the 200 free relay from the start, the Lady Bulldogs would have been shut out. Instead, they scored 32 points.

Considering UGA finished just 19 points ahead of Stanford for the overall title, those points were obviously vital in the long run. Cameron swam the anchor leg and finished her 50 in 21.83 seconds.

“I would not have ever guessed that I would have gone what I did on that relay,” Cameron said. “Being the anchor was an emotional spot to be in and I think that the adrenaline just kicked in. I think the fact that we had no expectations of that relay in the beginning really helped fuel the fire because we were like, ‘We can do something special.’ It was awesome. We surprised so many people and I have never seen a team so excited about a relay in a very long time.”

The excitement didn’t stop there. It was also a feather in the cap for the Georgia women that all 13 of its competitors at the NCAA’s scored points.

“The fact that we had an entire team effort this time when we won, and I was able to be a part of that, was probably one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever experienced,” Cameron said. “We didn’t have a single girl who didn’t score there, and that’s amazing to me.”

As Williams noted, UGA’s training under skipper Jack Bauerle, who was selected as the National Women’s Coach of the Year for the seventh time, was no doubt a factor. Among their 20 hours of training every week includes 5:30 a.m. workouts, weights, dry land and more.

“Not to say that others don’t,” Williams said, “but I think we just have a higher level of intensity in workouts.”

They also have an atmosphere in which the UGA swimmers, women and mean alike, drive one another for nothing less than their top efforts.

“Props to the guys and the girls in the water,” Williams remarked, “every day pushing each other, trying to make themselves better and trying to help their teammates get better.”

Coming out of Warwick as a heavily-recruited blue-chipper, Cameron has lived up to her billing at the University of Georgia. In fact, Williams can’t say enough about the leader that she has become for the Lady Bulldogs.

“(Emily) definitely has matured and grown, not only as a swimmer, but as a person, as a leader on our team,” Williams said. “She struggled a little bit her freshman year &tstr; I think it was just being away from home, you’re at college and it’s just a different training environment. It took her awhile to kinda fit, like, to get everything in order. Then I want to say it was right after (her freshman) season, the lightbulb came on and it was like, ‘OK, if this is what I want to do, I have to do these things.’ And ever since then, she is a leader on this team, she’s super positive, she’s encouraging, she’s doing a lot of stuff outside the pool that I think is helping her grow into an inspiring and amazing individual.”

True words, indeed.

Besides being named to the SEC and University of Georgia Academic Honor Rolls, Cameron, a sports management major, was inducted into the UGA Institute for Leadership Advancement, a year-long program starting last fall.

She was also recently nominated as the UGA women’s swim team representative for the SEC’s ‘Good Works Team.’

Hard to argue, considering the resume she is building.

Cameron is involved with Protect Your Melon (a program to raise money for pediatric cancer patients), UGA Relay for Life, and Safe Routes to School, and she is doing her part to help promote a Special Olympics Prom.

Amazingly, it doesn’t end there. Cameron volunteered for the ‘No More’ campaign to end domestic violence, she has collected monetary and toiletry donations for Project Safe, in addition to food donations for the Hunger Bowl benefiting the food bank of Northeast Georgia.

“(Emily)’s definitely one of our leaders on this team,” Williams remarked.

With the NCAA Championships in the rear-view mirror, Cameron and many of her teammates are now turning their attention toward the Olympic Trials, to be held June 26 through July 3 in Omaha, Neb. She is currently training long-course for Pro Arena Series meets in Mesa, Ariz. and Indianapolis, Ind. Cameron will also be training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. for two weeks in early May.

Both Cameron and Williams believe a good goal would be to finish in the top eight. She has qualified in the 100 and 200 breaststroke, the 200 and 400 I.M. and the 200 fly.Whether she competes in the 200 fly or not remains to be seen.

“I’d like to be top eight in two events,” Cameron said. “Top eight would be pretty cool. I’m just going to focus on what I always have and that’s just having fun and enjoying the experience. But now that I’ve been there before (in 2012), I know what to expect, I know the atmosphere that it brings, so I think I’ll be able to control my nerves a little bit better and to just fully be able to enjoy myself while I’m there.”

“I think (Emily)’s got a great chance,” Williams said. “She’s done the work. I think when we get there, if she just sticks to her game plan and race strategy and believes in herself and has a lot of confidence in what she has done, I think she can be as successful as she wants to be. Trials is hard. You have people who are professionals and this is their job, and they could be good for 364 days but if they’re not good that one day, they may miss it. Or you have people who have been there three of four times and they still get nervous and they still kinda get caught up in it’s the end-all, be-all. But I think (about) how Emily prepares for her races with Georgia, and if she approaches them in the same manner, I think she has a shot to swim well and to go best times … I don’t know if she’ll get first or second because there’s a lot of good kids in her events, but I truly believe she can get top eight, and I think for her that would be a huge confidence booster.”

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