First-year Mariah Rawding took fourth place in the 50-yard and the 100-yard breaststroke at last week’s NESCAC Championship. She also took third in the 200-yard breaststroke, the last of her three solo events, the maximum number allowed.

Rawding also participated on four strong relay teams—the 400-yard freestyle which finished second, the 200-yard freestyle and 400-yard medley both of which finished fourth, and the 200-yard medley, which finished fifth.

Rawding broke school records in each of her three individual events and earned All-Conference honors in the 200 breaststroke and the 400 freestyle relay. Her performance contributed to women swimming and diving’s best finish in program history.

Rawding completed 14 races over the three-day NESCAC Championship, an average number of events for a short-distance swimmer.

Her performance was somewhat surprising to Coach Brad Burnham and to Rawding herself. For most of the season, she had hovered around the top 20 before leaping into the top five in the conference at the Championship.

Burnham mentioned that he had not had much time to observe Rawding’s technique over the course of the season, as individual attention can be difficult to dole out on a 50-person team. He said that Rawding played a more significant role on the team than he had anticipated during recruiting.

Still, Rawding had believed from the beginning that she would benefit from tapering—the two-week period before big races when swimmers dramatically reduce their workload to regain energy and improve their performance.

“I think I told Brad during Christmas training that I was ready for taper,” Rawding said. “It had always gone pretty well for me.”

Burnham for his part, noticed her post-taper improvements in practice and felt comfortable enough to place her on the stronger relay teams.

“She’d been looking great in practice, but you never really know until someone does it,” he said. “I trusted her. She trusted herself. She said that when she got to taper she’d be faster. It’s more of a relief in some ways. She was confident and I could see some things in there—some flashes of brilliance.”

Her dramatic improvement at the NESCAC Championship—she dropped 12 seconds off her 200 breaststroke—was not quite unprecedented, however. Rawding had achieved something similar between her junior and senior years in high school, after she had already been admitted to Bowdoin.

A Washington state native, Rawding did not do a campus visit. She was only familiar with the school because Coach Burnham swam with her uncle.

“My uncle said he knew a really good coach,” she said. “I thought, ‘It’s in Maine. It’s not going to be fun. It’s going to be cold.’”

Still, Rawding said Burnham was “a really big piece” of her decision to come to Bowdoin and continue her swimming career. She said she appreciated his “quality over quantity” approach to swimming and was glad that she would only have to swim six months out of the year.

Rawding grew up in a swimming household—both her parents swam in college—and her mother coached her to swim competitively from five or six years old. She said this contributed to her mixed feelings on swimming in college.

“I came from a program where I didn’t swim a lot, like I didn’t swim mornings, for example,” she said. “I only swam six months out of the year. It’s the same here. I didn’t want to get burned out again—to get to the point where it wasn’t fun anymore.”

However, Rawding has found that this season’s results have renewed her enthusiasm for competing, particularly in the relays.

“It’s going to be hard to top this season to be honest,” she said. “I swam really well in all my individual events and the relays were amazing. Everybody stepped up. But it’s a great way to start my Bowdoin career because each year I’m going to want to replicate that.”

Rawding will wait for the rest of the Division-III schools to finish their championships to see if she will be selected to compete nationally. She has a strong chance to do so, as she can qualify in most of the events she placed in last weekend.

The sports editor of the Orient chooses the Athlete of the Week based on exemplary performance.

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