Utah swimming: Nick Soedel sets sights on NCAA title, and beyond
Most folks learn that life isn't fair from their parents as in, your nose-picking friend gets a new Huffy and they stiff you with a rusting hand-me-down. For Sven Soedel, that lesson may have been best taught by his son, Nick.
Sven swam competitively at age 7. Nick didn't take swimming seriously until high school. Driven by his parents' high expectations, Sven grew up practicing 11 times a week. Nick, at most three. Sven and his brothers, Dirk and Fritz, swam for Purdue, but he didn't ever rate at conference championships. Nick this month earned Utah a Pac-12 swimming title and has a shot to become the U.'s first NCAA champion in 39 years.
"He surprised the heck out of us," says Sven. But his pride in his son more than offsets the injury to his pride.
Earlier this month in Federal Way, Wash., the junior gave the Utes their second-ever Pac-12 title just 20 minutes after Soedel's travel roommate, Bence Kiraly, won their first. Soedel's 100 free time of 41.97 seconds is the third-fastest in the nation this season, at two hundredths of a second behind Louisville's Joao De Lucca and a half-second slower than Auburn's Marcelo Chierighini. Both were 2012 Olympians for Brazil.
So what makes Soedel so good?
"Well, just look at him," says first-year Utah swimming head coach Joe Dykstra.
While at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., before his sophomore season, Soedel stood with his back to a life-size mural of Michael Phelps and matched oars: Phelps has a 6-foot-7-inch wingspan; Soedel's is longer.
The Huntington Beach, Calif., native is Phelpsian in most other regards. Narrow hips. Broad shoulders. Big hands. Big feet. When he raises his arms above his head to stretch, his torso becomes cartoonishly triangular, like a Stan Lee creation.
"He's how you draw it up as a swimmer," Dykstra says.
At least physically. Sven says his son an articulate and thoughtful guy, it bears noting long had difficulty paying attention in the minutes before an upcoming race. In Omaha, as handlers milled about and television monitors broadcast the heats, somebody pointed out that the rest of Soedel's heat was up on the blocks. Dad was in the nosebleeds at CenturyLink Center when he spied Nick running out to the pool, late for his own Olympic trial.
Soedel's focus has improved as he has closed in on the nation's elite sprinters. Before his Pac-12 victory, Sven says, he simply stared out at his lane. "These guys are flexing, twisting around. Nick just stood with his hands on his hips. Didn't flinch a muscle."
His mother, Patty, says Nick first chose to dedicate himself to swimming shortly before high school, when Golden West Swim Club reconvened after a three-year pool remodel. "I remember he told me that summer, 'Mom, I just want to swim,' and I thought, 'OK, that'll make dad happy.' "
Despite Sven's attachment, the Soedels weren't ever pushy about the pool. Nick grew up playing basketball, soccer, volleyball, tennis and water polo. He tried out for track as a freshman and long jumped 18 feet, 9 inches, but the promise of immediately making varsity on the swim team led him to disappoint Marina High's drooling track coach.
Soedel was ignored by California Pac-12 schools even after winning the 100 free state title as an unheralded junior. He signed with the U., and his arrival in Salt Lake coincided with the hiring of his sprint coach, Jonas Persson.
"It was a nice little gift I got," says the 2008 Swedish Olympian. "But he was very green. He didn't really take the sport seriously, and the first year was about teaching him how to train and how to act and how to do the right things."
The "right things" entailed getting eight hours of sleep, not partying on the weekends and hitting the books Â and Soedel was a typical freshman.
"I wasn't really very committed in the pool," he says. "I just showed up and got practice over with and went home and did whatever else I wanted to actually do."
He nonetheless won the 50 free against Stanford and helped set a school record in the 400 free relay, but it wasn't until his sophomore season that he fully bought into Persson's lifestyle tips. The psych major says he started to perform better in school, and when he placed 12th in the 50 free at last year's NCAAs, he became the first Utah male All-American since 1995.
Now, history calls again. The last Ute to win an NCAA title was Jeff Rolan, in the 100-yard butterfly in 1975. Dykstra reckons Soedel has at least an outside shot in both the 50 and 100 free.
"In the 50 I would just like to make the finals," Soedel said. "For the 100 ... there's still a good chance I could take that one. Me and a few other guys are all really close together in times, so it'll be a showdown."
Soedel may be on track to qualify in August for the U.S. National Team. To do that and to earn the stipend and specialized training that comes with it he'll have to prove this summer that he's capable of success in an Olympic-length 50-meter pool.
But first things first: Austin, March 27-29.
Unlike at last year's NCAAs, when Soedel says he was shaking and sweating before races, "I'm not going to be intimidated by them," he says. "When I show up, they're going to be intimidated by me."
Sven, Patty, and Soedel's 14-year-old sister, April, will be there to provide support and, if need be, to point him toward the blocks. Sven's parents also plan to drive down from West Lafeyette, Ind.
Jokes Sven, "After all these years, they finally have a swimmer in our family who has done something."
NCAA Men's Swimming Championships
P March 27-29,
At Austin, Texas
Nick Soedel at a glance
Hometown • Huntington Beach, Calif.
Age • 20 | Height • 6'5"
Year • Junior
Major • Psychology
Pac-12 Championship results • 1st, 100 freestyle; 3rd, 50 freestyle