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Senior Caroline Raley runs through a tunnel formed by her teammates during Senior Day celebrations at Ohio's meet against Bowling Green on January 27, 2018.

Seniors bond in and out of the pool

As Katie Lemen swam the anchor leg, Elena Patz and Caroline Raley waved their arms to encourage the crowd to cheer louder. 

The crowd happily obliged.

Those were the loudest cheers of the dual-meet Jan. 27 against Bowling Green, but they were not for the winners of any race. They were for the fifth-place finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay. 

Only two of the four in the “Ohio senior relay” typically swim freestyle events and only three of them were actually seniors. 

Of the 27 members of the Ohio swimming and diving team, only three of them are seniors: Lemen, Patz and Raley. 

There were four others that came in at the same time, although they have all left the team.

The team was in a rocky place, with its third coach in a one-year period, and new head coach Rachel Komisarz-Baugh coming in wanting to change the program. 

The support of Lemen, Patz and Raley on how to achieve the goals of the program has helped Komisarz-Baugh change the culture of the team and establish the structure for the future.

“I don't think I would have been able to do this without them because they jumped on board with what my vision and my thoughts were for the program,” Komisarz-Baugh said. 

Going through all the difficulties brought the seniors closer together as the program changed throughout their time. Spending hours together at swim practice was not enough for them; they all decided to live together during their junior year. 

“We did everything together," Lemen, the Carmel, Indiana native, said. "(Elena) woke me and Caroline up every day for practice because Elena is more the mom. Me and Caroline oversleep a lot. She's always waking us up even for afternoon practice, we like to nap.” 

Raley said although they have vastly different personalities, they all have a common trait in being team players and putting the team before themselves. 

Knowing the freshmen being brought in are as good, or better, can occasionally create friction, as the upperclassmen lose their place as the best. But it is essential for it not to, especially with a new head coach.

“These girls are looking out for the well-being and what is best for the team as a whole,” Komisarz-Baugh said. "And they know having these freshmen and pushing these freshmen and encouraging … those that are faster than them that's what's going to help the team and that's what they've stepped up and been able to do." 

There is no next season for any of them, but they are not putting themselves under pressure with expectations — other than to have fun and enjoy their final season. 

“In a few months, it will all be over," Patz, a Waunakee, Wisconsin native, said. "So really just making the most of it and also looking ahead to the future and how swimming can help me in the rest of my life."

Having been here from the start of Komisarz-Baugh's time as head coach, they are able to see the improvements that have been made in four years. 

Additionally, they see how much more improvement the team can make in the future with Komisarz-Baugh at the helm.

“While I would love to reap the benefits now and I have been," Patz said. "I think even in three, four years, it’s going to be insane and I'm really looking forward to seeing that as a proud alumna even though I necessarily didn't get to that super high level."

With the dual-meet season wrapping up, it usually signifies the last time the seniors swim in their home pool, but not this year. Ohio will host the Mid-American Conference Championships. 

“How cool is it to say that my last collegiate swim is going to be at my favorite place in the world, Athens, Ohio,” Lemen said. “It’s honestly surreal like there is going to be a lot of tears just knowing that my last swim is literally going to be right here where it all started, it's full circle." 

The seniors will always be special to Komisarz-Baugh, and the first bricks in the path aiming to reach the top. 

As the anchor leg for each of their times in Athens approaches the final strokes, there is reflection about the last four years. 

“I wouldn't want to be seniors with anyone else," Lemen said.


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