Austin Lashley (senior) placed third at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Swimming and Diving Championship in the 100-yard butterfly March 22 at Indiana University Natatorium at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. It was his first appearance at the national meet, but it was well deserved, according to head coach Steve Webb.
Lashley is a hard worker, Webb said, and has spent his past four years at Occidental in and out of the pool, weight room and classroom. For Lashley, consistency is everything: wake up at 6:00 a.m., eat oatmeal with a banana and then head to the pool. He never hits the snooze button. Four years of practices, winter breaks spent on campus and brisk mornings in cold pools. Yet, Lashley said it was all worth it when he swam the fastest time at the championship preliminary races.
Despite Lashley’s podium finish at the national championship, he almost didn’t qualify for the national competition. Lashley was ranked 15th out of the 16 athletes who qualified for the 100-yard butterfly. Additionally, Lashley’s invitation to compete at the national championship was the last invitation sent out by the NCAA. According to junior team captain Joanie Kronick, Lashley’s ability to qualify was impressive because he did it on an individual basis. Occidental did not send any relay teams to the competition this year, so Lashley was one of the few swimmers that the NCAA sent an individual invitation to. He left the national championship in Indianapolis as an NCAA All-American.
Prior to the national championships, Lashley dominated the 2018 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship meet. Lashley finished the meet with five new school records, two All-SCIAC performances and multiple new personal records. Despite his massive successes at SCIACs, Lashley explained that he was not ready to get out of the pool. The possibility of making a national run kept him in the water for a full extra month, training one-on-one with Webb.
“It was rough training by myself and just one on one with Coach the last month, but the team was awesome during this time,” Lashley said. “A lot of teammates came out to swim with me which was really nice. You know they were out of season and just finished their champs meet, and having them come be there for me and encourage me through it helped me train at that high level.”
Lashley explained that the training process that ensued in the last month was different than one he had ever experienced before. Training privately with Webb allowed him to refine his stroke, and redo his race. Webb explained that by working out the technical aspects of his stroke, Lashley was able to swim as correctly and efficiently as possible. Training for an entire month without teammates to compete with might have deterred some, but according to Webb, the last four weeks spoke to Lashley’s grit, work ethic and determination.
“Placing at the national championship could not happen to a better individual,” Webb said. “Austin is the hardest worker in the pool, without a doubt. No one outworks him. He comes to work every day and expects to get faster. That kind of sums him up. His expectations are high and he wants to win.”
Lashley’s diligence to his sport was echoed by teammate Ben Sappey (junior). According to Sappey, Lashley is always pushing his teammates to swim faster and work harder.
“Austin is an incredible motivator and a fantastic training partner,” Sappey said via email. “When we do race-pace swimming in practice, I’m usually racing Austin and I can tell you first hand he is a fierce competitor that never gives up.”
Keith Lashley, Austin’s father, explained that his son’s work ethic has been present throughout his life. He said that his son has been recognized on every team he has been on for his hard work, leadership and his swimming ability.
“Austin’s work ethic borders on obsessive. It’s rare that he ever missed a team workout in the 12 years that he has been swimming,” Keith Lashley said via email. “This last summer he trained about five to six days a week to stay in shape and achieve his long-term goal of making the NCAA championship.”
The road to the national championship has not been an easy one for Lashley. The Occidental Swim and Dive program has had three different coaches in the past four years. Lashley explained that by embracing each coach’s style and quirks, he has been able to make significant progress each year.
“As crazy as having three coaches in four years sounds, I think it might have helped me in the long run because they all brought something unique to the table,” Lashley said. “Shea was my freshman coach and really got me into college swimming which was definitely a hard transition. Tom, my sophomore year, really kept me on track, and then Steve has been phenomenal over the last two years. He is awesome and definitely has been great at refining all the aspects of my stroke.”
Although good coaching has been crucial to Lashley’s success in the water, his teammates have cited his belief in the program and his trust in the process to be a major factor in how fast he swam this season. Co-captain Laura Chun (junior) noted how much he has grown as both a swimmer and leader in the past three years.
“Swimming with Austin for the past three years, you can tell he has changed as a person. He is way more confident, and has definitely grown into his leadership position,” Chun said. “Austin went from being a good teammate to being a men’s captain, and it has just been such a great experience watching him grow into being such a powerful leader.”
According to teammate Annika Moen (sophomore), Lashley’s dedication to the program goes beyond the pool. Moen explained that Lashley organizes almost every event for the team; whether it’s socials or team dinners, he makes sure that everyone knows where to be and feels comfortable. Additionally, Moen explained that as a senior, Lashley still engages often with recruits in order to make sure he is leaving the program in good hands.
“Even though Austin is graduating, and the future of our program is not going to affect him in any way, he still cares and gives back,” Moen said. “For Austin, it is about more than just swimming fast and beating other teams, he cares about the team atmosphere as a whole, and that is really great to see in a captain.”
When he entered this program as a first year, Lashley said that he had no idea what his swim future would look like. At the time, he felt that he was a strong swimmer, but nowhere near the national level. Fast-forward four years later, and Lashley has secured a bronze medal at the national championship and a spot in the record books. What was once a distant dream now is a serious reality, and according to coach Webb, the perfect end to an outstanding career.