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Rick Houston | NCAA.com | March 15, 2014

Houston: Written on the wall

GENEVA, Ohio -- Nick McCarthy saw the goals written on the wall of his home every day since returning to school last August.

They were constant reminders of what the senior advertising and public relations major wanted to accomplish this year, his last as a Panther. The marks stretched him, forced him to work and dig just a little bit deep in practice and in meets.

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Consider his starting point as a freshman, when he placed 17th in the 50-yard freestyle event. The next year wasn’t much better, winding up 16th. Then last year, he was ninth, an improvement but still not quite good enough to crack the finals.

That ate at him, and up went the goals on his wall.

“The past couple of years, it’s been frustration, actually,” McCarthy said. “My junior year, I was ninth in the prelims and just on the edge of making the final. It’s not a disappointment, really, but it was a little frustrating because I wanted to be in that top eight. I wanted to be around the big guys on the team. I didn’t think people really took me seriously until I was in the top eight. This year, it worked out pretty well.”

Yes, it certainly did work out well for the native of Little Rock, Ark. here at the SPIRE Institute in the 2014 NCAA Division II swimming and diving national championships. The goal he had for the 50 free was to finish in 19.7 seconds, and Wednesday, he did just that in winning the title in a slick 19.75. 

In the 100 freestyle, the goal on his wall read 43.8 seconds. He trounced that goal and then some with a blistering time of 43.54, only to finish runnerup to Reuben Jimenez of Bridgeport by 5/100ths of a second.

McCarthy also swam in four relays during the championship week – finishing fourth in the 200 medley; first in the 200 freestyle; fourth in the 400 medley; and first in the 400 free, the final event of the week.

A goal that wasn’t on the wall was one that didn’t really need to be, because going after team national championships is pretty much a given when a student-athlete swims for Drury. The 2014 men’s crown was the 10th in a row for Panthers head coach Brian Reynolds.

“Going into nationals, it’s unreal to see the support that we get from alumni and the Springfield, Mo. community,” McCarthy continued. “Everyone just really gets behind us, and it’s awesome.”

There’s one question that he could probably have done without, but like the good advertising and public relations guy that he intends to be -- he’s still looking for a job, by the way -- he puts a positive spin on it.

“People have asked me, ‘You’re a senior. How are scared are you that you’re going to be the senior class that loses?’” McCarthy said. “We don’t think about it that way. We’re not the senior class that’s going to lose on the 10th year. We’re the senior class that’s going to get that 10th-consecutive championship.”

When McCarthy came out of high school, Reynolds admitted that the young man had a kind of raw talent. In working to become a more efficient swimmer rather than just a splasher, the young man made some changes to his arm stroke and kicking.

The work allowed him to achieve significant time drops – and an individual national championship that he had been chasing since he got the school four years ago.

“Our ultimate goal is to take a kid when they come in and make them a better athlete every year,” Reynolds said. “That’s really how we’re going to continue to win. We have to have kids that are willing to put in the work and the effort to step up, not just during the season, but during the offseason to try to get stronger and thinner and look towards the next year’s goals. Nick has been a great example of a kid who’s done that.”