This week, I sat down with senior Hayley Cardinal, a captain and standout swimmer on the Lawrence University Women’s Swim team. This past weekend, Cardinal competed in her final Midwest Conference Championships, capping off another stellar season in her Lawrence career by swimming to the title in the 200-yard butterfly in 2:24:13, the 100-yard breaststroke title in 1:04:96 that earned her a NCAA “B” cut and a third place finish in the 200-yard individual medley. Cardinal previously held the top times in all three races, and was named Midwest Conference Swimmer of the Week four times this season. The Lawrence Women’s team finished third in the championships.
Gabe Chapman: How did this season compare to your previous seasons here at Lawrence?
Hayley Cardinal: I think it’s been a really good season. I think the team has been more encouraging every year. Last year, I had a strong season, but it was cut short because I went abroad. It’s been great to go through my full season knowing I could get the times I was able to last year. I think overall as a team, we’ve been getting along a lot better, and I think that the positive attitude has made a difference in the season overall. We try to cheer for every person on the team, and that’s my favorite thing about being on this team. It’s been an interesting year knowing that it’s my last, so that put some extra pressure on it, but at the same time having certain goals from last year in times I never thought I’d reach before. Trying to reach them again has really put into perspective what I can and cannot do. That’s made it more intense but also really exciting.
GC: When you were a freshman what goals did you have coming into your collegiate career?
HC: I actually wasn’t sure if I would swim. I was recruited by [Head Track and Field Coach] Jason Fast, and he let [Head Swim Coach Andrew Fleek] know I also swam. I had taken my senior year of high school swimming off for various reasons, so I didn’t have many expectations of myself and if I’d even be competing on a college swim team. I think I did it to get to know people and make friends, but I never would have imagined being where I am now. I could’ve never imagined being at this level and dropping five seconds in my 100-breaststroke from my high school time. I thought that getting a 1:06 was my lifetime goal, and when I got a 1:04 I couldn’t believe it. So, I guess I’ve surpassed all the goals I’ve set for myself, and I think that’s because of the people I’ve been able to swim with. I’ve been pushed by my teammates more than I could ever expect, which sounds bad but has been really great for me.
GC: So swimming for Lawrence has changed your whole outlook on the sport.
HC: Yeah, I was just thinking about what my life would’ve been like here without swimming, because the majority of my friends are swimmers and we spend so much time together. Having that foundation of friends and seeing upperclassmen on the team balancing swimming and homework and other extracurricular activities was very important to me because as a freshman I didn’t know if I would be able to fit it all in. But to me, swimming is the best stress reliever because it’s a mental break from everything else. It motivated me to set goals and think about what I can do. When I see freshmen come in and are concerned about whether they can balance it all, I [would] say you don’t have to be defined as a swimmer because there are people on this team who do a million other things.
GC: What’s your leadership role on the team like?
HC: I’m one of three female captains. My favorite part about being a captain is every week we have a swimmer of the week, and it’s a way to recognize people on the team who may not be the fastest. But we recognize how much effort they’re putting in or how positive they are, because attitude is such an important part of swimming and the mental aspect of the sport. This year we’ve been really good about having one every week, just so everyone sees them and they are recognized as a valued member of the team. Especially with Division III swimming, knowing they’re doing it by choice is really important and something I like to make sure to be valued. Another thing I promote is cheering and supporting each other in every single race, especially for the distance races, because those are very long and grueling races. My parents mentioned this weekend that Lawrence was the only team who had swimmers cheering next to the lanes for all the races. For me, that’s the legacy I want Lawrence to be remembered for, because that’s what is really important to our team. The person could be coming in last, but we will be cheering for them every single yard.
GC: Was there one point this season you think was a definitive moment in your Lawrence career?
HC: I’d have to say it was last year when we swam at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh—which carried over into this season. That’s where I dropped a lot of time for the 200-breastroke. I swam it all by myself – which is terrifying – and it’s just a really hard and painful race in general. But the entire team was on both sides of the pool cheering, and with the breaststroke you can hear really well every time your head comes out of the water. It felt like there was so much support from every single person, that it made swimming it so much easier because they believed in me. And then this year, reaching those times again after taking so much time off abroad was super exciting, and that got me ready for conference because I knew if I could do that at [University of Wisconsin at] Oshkosh, I could do it at conference.