BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Senior Lindsay McNall (Colchester, Vt./Colchester) became the first swimmer in Saint Michael's College history to land All-America honors on Friday evening, debuting at the NCAA Championship with a 15th-place finish in the 100-yard backstroke at the Birmingham CrossPlex.
McNall is the first swimmer in College history to be selected for an NCAA Championship, with this year's event part of the NCAA Division II National Championships Festival being hosted by the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the City of Birmingham. She is the only woman and the only swimmer from the Northeast-10 Conference at the meet, joining a male diver from Southern Connecticut State University.
McNall entered the morning trials of the 100 back seeded 18th among 31 competitors, with her time of 55.77 - a program record set on Feb. 17 - leaving her just 0.32 seconds outside the top 10. While competing in Lane 7 during the second of four heats, McNall posted a time of 56.13, good for 16th place. Each of the top 16 qualified for evening finals, and McNall advanced thanks to a strong second half of her race.
After standing eighth out of eight swimmers 50 yards in, trailing counterparts from Northern Michigan University and Wingate (N.C.) University by 0.36 and 0.25 seconds, respectively, McNall rallied to edge them by 0.30 and 0.21 ticks. Two heats remained, and that comeback ultimately elevated her into 16th place, leaving the Wingate and Northern Michigan competitors 17th and 18th, respectively, just outside the group of finals qualifiers. Of the 16 women who advanced to the evening session, six hailed from McNall's heat alone.
With the ninth- through 16th-place finishers in the trials competing in the consolation championship during the evening portion of the meet, McNall held down 14th place by 0.01 seconds halfway through the event before eventually taking 15th at 56.67. She trailed a Saginaw Valley State (Mich.) University foe by 0.03 seconds for 14th place but trimmed a competitor from Truman State (Mo.) University by 0.11 ticks. Each swimmer in the B final earned All-America honorable mention accolades, while A final competitors claimed All-America first team nods.
McNall now adds All-America finisher to a list of career accomplishments that also includes being the two-time champion in the 100 back at both the NE10 and New England Intercollegiate Swimming & Diving Association (NEISDA) championships. McNall is back in the pool on Saturday for her final event, the 200 back. The morning session begins at 11:30 a.m. ET before finals are underway at 6:30 p.m.
McNall singlehandedly has her college tied for 37th among 38 schools with two points, the first ever garnered by Purple Knights at an NCAA Championship. The Purple and Gold is tied with California University of Pennsylvania. It had been 31 years since a member of a Saint Michael's swimming & diving program qualified for an NCAA meet, as diver Sue Judge '86 was chosen in 1983 and 1986 after fellow diver Luke Dougherty '84 also was picked during his senior year, in 1984.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Senior Lindsay McNall
We definitely had goals of making it back to the consolation finals. It was a little bit of a reach goal, seeing as I was seeded 18th, and it takes the top 16 to make it in, so after my race this morning I was pretty psyched to see I got my way in to race tonight. I was thinking that I was not going to make it back because I was only sixth in my heat, so I was doing the math and thinking that I was going to have to hopefully beat a lot of girls in the upcoming two heats in order to make it back. It was pretty exciting.
That's a part of preparation, visualizing the race, visualizing hopefully a good time and a good place. I don't want to say that I saw it coming, but I definitely didn't think it was totally out of the question.
When I really missed the team tonight was at finals. It was weird not having everyone behind my lane.
Definitely the highlight of both races was being able to move three spots from my original seed. That's pretty incredible to say that I'm 15th in D2.
Heading into her race during 100 back trials...
A lot of nerves because it was the first one. It felt really, really good to get the first one out of the way and kind of fall back into swim meet rhythm.
On her comeback during the 100 back trials...
This morning I was actually telling Eileen how on my last turn, I could see that they were both next to me on either side, and my only thought was that they're no different than I am, they're no better than I am, there's no reason I can't beat them, so I put as much as I could into that last 25 [yards].
On the atmosphere at the NCAA Division II Festival...
Eileen and I watched a little bit of the track session on Wednesday, and that was pretty exciting because neither of us even realized how little we knew about indoor track. What I have noticed about all of the athletes here, even though we're all national-level athletes, we're really no different from any other swimmer: We all still complain about the cold water, we all still need help getting our tech suits on, so that's really nice, actually, a little humbling. And everyone is really friendly, too. Going to the locker room is a little intimidating because everyone else seems to have at least one or two other of their teammates to help get their suits on, but if I need any assistance with anything, everyone is super friendly and ready to be there for me.
On the support coming from Vermont and Saint Michael's...
It has been so nice to hear all the people back home watching, and I've been getting so many texts and Facebook messages, so that's really cool. A lot of teammates, a lot of people from campus, actually, which is kind of nice. People that aren't even affiliated with sports necessarily. I'm feeling the love. It's nice that swimming is getting some attention.
Head Coach Eileen Hall
On Lindsay becoming All-America...
It feels really cool. There's a couple parts: First of all, I knew she could do it, and I'm just delighted she realized that potential, because I knew she could, and I knew she could do whatever she decided to do, and she decided she was going to come to nationals and swim fast, and she did. The other part is that, what I feel also extends into the program, I'm feeling a lot of optimism about the direction of the program just because what Lindsay has demonstrated is that nationals, while a really challenging goal, is not unattainable. It's not something that is just this mysterious place that only really, really fast people go. Saint Mike's swimmers go to nationals now, and what she has done has inspired, at this point, at least two athletes to already approach me and say, "I want to go to nationals next year." So, being All-American is a huge honor, and it just shows that you can come to Saint Michael's College, and you can go to nationals in swimming. It's a place where you can succeed. If you come and you have that goal, our program can help somebody achieve that goal. And it's great for Lindsay, but she's basically pioneered a new team culture by setting a tone that Lindsay's not special, she just worked hard.
On strategy between the trials and finals...
It is always important to never settle, you always have to look ahead and have a plan to swim faster in finals. That's kind of the essence of trials/finals swimming anyway. You have to get there, but we train to be fast in finals because that's where you score the points.
On a special moment during the evening session, following the 100 backstroke race...
Before they announce the award winners - the folks who end up on the podium, the top eight - they count it from 16th up to nine and then they announce the top eight. They announced the 16th place, and when they got to 15th, they said, "Lindsay McNall from Saint Michael's College." And he made a point to stop and say, "If I'm not mistaken, this is Saint Michael's College's first trip to the NCAA Championship, so let's have a round of applause for Saint Michael's College," which I think is just emblematic of the D2 philosophy in a lot of ways. Everybody is approachable and friendly, and they really focus on the athlete experience, as evidenced by the fact that they hold these festivals, and the festivals are solely for student-athlete experience. And so, to rope us into the energy was really something special. I was astounded. They have not said anything like that about anybody else, as far as I've heard.
On the atmosphere at the championship...
[Coaches] came up and said, "Great job, Lindsay," or they patted me on the back and said, "She swam great," so now I know when their kids are swimming, and it's pretty cool. There's a lot of camaraderie. It's a really great atmosphere. It's very professional, but it's also pretty geared toward having a positive student-athlete experience, and if that means, as a coach, you congratulate another student-athlete, that's what they do.
On the support coming from Vermont and Saint Michael's...
Lindsay's right, there's quite the outpouring. It's so wonderful. I said, "Lindsay, think about this, think about the impact you've made on all these people that they're showing up right now. That is pretty powerful, that's more than just you being a swimmer: Your institution is proud of you, and your family is proud of you." Her professors are messaging her. "You've made an impact, people want to show you that they're rooting for you, and that means you're a nice person, and you've done things right."