When Miranda McDonnell joined Ripon Aquatics less than two years ago, she sat down with coach Erik Zador and spoke candidly about her goals.
She wanted to swim in college, plain and simple, and she didn’t have much time to waste.
Zador plotted the course, pointing out all the variables it would take to realize that dream.
McDonnell would have to be consistent and coachable. She would have to work hard, pour her soul into the pool and chase time-drops.
Since then, few have worked harder than the St. Mary’s senior and former Manteca Dolphin.
Now she gets her reward.
McDonnell will sign her national letter of intent to compete and study at Cal State East Bay tonight in her home, surrounded by family and friends.
“I’m super excited. From the time I started swimming, I’ve wanted to swim in college,” she said. “To have the opportunity now is a dream come true.”
The 17-year-old will receive a partial scholarship from the Pioneers, a promising Division II swim program coached by Ben Loorz.
“She’s a very hard worker. She’s very devoted. She comes to every practice. Her attendance is about perfect and she’s goal-driven,” Zador said. “She never complains at all. She’s a very good athlete to coach. She deserves to go on and swim in college.”
McDonnell’s decision didn’t come easily.
Three schools courted the butterfly and backstroke specialist, including attractive offers from Iona College in New York and Western State University in Colorado.
However, McDonnell was impressed most by Ben Loorz, who visited with McDonnell and coach Zador during a 5 a.m. swim practice at the Ervin Zador Aquatic Center in Ripon.
It also helped that Cal State East Bay offers McDonnell’s major, Speech Language Pathology.
“It made him standout. No other coach came out at 5 a.m. to watch me swim in practice. It showed his character,” McDonnell said. “From that point on, he really stood out to me as someone different; someone I could really trust and grow with.”
The Pioneers finished third at the Pacific Collegiate Swim Conference Championships in February, improving their position by three spots on the third and final day.
McDonnell will join a relatively young squad. The Pioneers featured only one senior this spring – Alyssa Tenney, a backstroke specialist.
McDonnell should help fill her void.
She is one of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s top swimmers in the butterfly and backstroke, reaching the 2014 section championships in each stroke. McDonnell placed 15th in the 100-yard fly.
However, it was her performance at a Senior II Meet at Diablo Valley College in December that piqued the interest of college coaches.
McDonnell set personal-best times in seven events: the 100 back (59.18), 200 back (2:08.32), 100 fly (59.98), 200 fly (2:13.05), 200 individual medley (2:16.49), 400 IM (4:47.80), and 500 freestyle (5:16.27).
“Since I came over to Ripon Aquatics so late, I wasn’t able to perform as well as I would have liked at high school sections. Me and Erik sat down and chose this meet to focus on,” she said. “After that, we trained for that meet. It put some pressure on me, but I’ve got a lot of trust in Erik and his training.
“The Cal State East Bay coach caught onto those times. He offered me a scholarship based on those times. It really was a huge success for me.”
From there, the recruiting process intensified.
Just as Zador promised.
“These kids come to me, and if they want to swim, we start with their goals. Everyone has different goals and we try to work with everybody. When kids want to swim in college, I sit down and tell them what they need to do,” Zador said. “I tell them, ‘This is the route you’ll need to take and it’s going to be hard work.’ In the last year and a half, she’s been working hard on everything.”
McDonnell believes the move to Ripon Aquatics from Tiger Aquatics in Stockton changed her course. These days, she spends 18 hours a week in the pool, many of them under the watchful eye of Zador.
“The first practice I swam with Erik I knew this is where I was supposed to be,” she said. “I never had that kind of experience with another coach. He’s helped me improve in so many different aspects of swimming. It’s been a great move for me.”