by Duane Cochran for FightingFalcons.com
Kathryn Saurborn's talents in the swimming pool were clearly evident early on in her life.
At the mere age of eight she attracted the attention of former Fairmont State assistant swimming coach John Highlands, who was also serving as the head coach of the newly-formed Fairmont Area Swim Team (FAST) which competed at the club level.
“We had just formed FAST as a club team and John Highlands and I were talking about how other teams in the area had national level kids,” said current Fairmont State head swimming coach Pat Snively. “I said to him 'How do we do that?' He said 'It's going to take time, but you're looking at a swimmer who has that kind of ability.'
“He was talking about Kathryn and he was right. He had her pegged way back then. I remember him telling me that you couldn't teach what she had. She has extremely fast feet and you could tell at a young age that she loved to swim, that she had drive and passion and we sensed she had the potential to accomplish great things.”
Twelve years later with high school state championships and college team and pool records on her resume Saurborn stands poised to compete on the biggest stage she's ever competed on during her swimming career. The Fairmont State junior has earned the right to compete in the NCAA Division II National Championships, March 14-17, at Mansfield Independent School District Natatorium in Mansfield, Texas.
“The chance to compete at the national championships is something I've wanted since I first came to school here,” said Saurborn. “Last year I was close, but it didn't happen for me and I was devastated. I was not happy at all.
“Last year I put a lot of pressure on myself to make it. I mean a lot of pressure. It was all I thought about. This year I tried to back off of that and just focus and concentrate on achieving my best time. That was probably the smartest thing I did along with continuing to work hard and push myself.”
The change of strategy paid big dividends for Saurborn who qualified for the national meet in three different events – the 50 freestyle, the 100 freestyle and the 100 butterfly. She's ranked sixth in the nation in the 100 freestyle with a qualifying time of 50.82, seventh in the country in the 50 freestyle with a qualifying time of 23.30 and 35th in Division II in the 100 butterfly with a qualifying time of 57.17.
A finish in the top eight in any event earns All-America honors. Any finish between 9th-16th place would give her All-America honorable mention recognition.
Saurborn will compete in the 50 freestyle on Wednesday, March 14. She'll then take part in the 100 butterfly Thursday, March 15. After an off day, she will wrap up her competition Saturday, March 17, with the 100 freestyle. She has a number of family members who reside in Texas who are expected to be at the competition.
Despite her individual success, Saurborn remains humble, grounded and thankful to a number of individuals who have played major roles in her blossoming career. Included in the group are Snively, FSU assistant coach Kate Inozemtseva, Falcon strength coach John Marano, her college teammates, her East Fairmont High School coach Brenda Moran and of course her family.
“You know I might have put in a lot of the hard work, but I've had so many people during my life around me to push me, drive me, train me and support me that I'd me remiss if I didn't acknowledge them and their efforts,” she said. “I really only deserve half of the credit. I'm so thankful to be surrounded by good coaches, great teammates and to have gotten the support that I have gotten from my family. A lot of people have put in a wealth of time with me to help get me to where I am today.
“I'm honored to have the opportunity to compete at nationals and if I can achieve All-America honors, it would be that much more special. I know what I have to do and now it's come to the point where I just need to get in the pool and perform.”
Snively, who is in his 11th season as FSU's head swimming coach, has produced a number of All-American swimmers during his tenure. He cautiously says he likes Saurborn's chances to perform at a high level at the national meet.
“It's really been enjoyable for me to see her progression as a swimmer,” he said. “She's had a lot of success along the way and she's had a lot of near misses too. This year has been kind of the culmination of all of those years of dedication and hard work. She's bounced back from those near misses, put everything she has into this season and now it's taking her to the national championships and that's priceless.
“She's ranked pretty high in two of her events, but right now that really doesn't mean anything until she goes there and performs, and she knows and understands that. She has the potential to finish among the top eight, but at the same time you can't account for what everyone else is going to do.
“The thing I like about Kathryn is her demeanor is right and she's in a good place right now," Snively continued. "She's made it to where she wants to be and she's taken the pressure off of herself. Realistically, I think she can swim faster than she did in our conference meet. Sometimes that's difficult to do, but she's practicing really well and each week she's been going faster than what she did prior to the conference meet. We've talked about it and we honestly feel like she could be faster. We think she could be under 23 seconds in the 50 freestyle and if it's 22.99 who cares. That would be great.”
Fairmont State's last female swimmer to garner individual NCAA Division II All-America honors was Kristy Renfro who did it 12 years ago in the 2000 National Championship Meet.