INDIANAPOLIS -- The signs of Patricia Castro-Ortega’s record week began early.
On Wednesday night at the DII Swimming and Diving Championships, she cruised through the women’s 200-yard intermediate medley in 1:58.60, chopping .31 off the national championship record.
It was only the start.Castro-Ortega, a freshman at Queens (N.C.), set a record in every race she was in, including Saturday night’s 100 freestyle. By the end of the night, she was not only celebrating the Royals’ first national team title in both women’s and men’s swimming, but also her Female Swimmer of the Meet award.
Led by Castro-Ortega’s four individual wins --where she also swam the lead leg on the 400- and 800-yard freestyle relay wins -- Queens won the women’s team title with a score of 540.5 points, defeating two-time national champion Drury by more than 50 points.
What else would you expect from an Olympian?
Castro-Ortega made her Olympics debut at age 19 when she was on Spain’s 800-meter relay team at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The squad finished 10th. Three years before that, she made Spain’s national team for the first time.
Now that Castro-Ortega is pursuing a business degree in North Carolina, Queens coach Jeff Dugdale is the recipient of an impressive talent.
“Patri is a special person in the fact that she had choices to go to just about any program she wanted to,” Dugdale said. “And she chose Queens because of the environment in which she could get a good education at a little smaller school and still focus a lot on her training.
“She’s excelled both academically and athletically, which has been a huge bonus for us.”Castro-Ortega is aiming for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and in two weeks she’ll be in Spain to try and get a spot on her country’s world championship team for the 2015 FINA World Championships.
But Queens is where she’ll stay. Much of her training for the Olympics will continue to be in Charlotte while she continues her education instead of taking up to two years off for Olympic training as some Olympic swimmers do.
Her presence at Queens makes a difference with her teammates, in addition to the 80 points she earned toward the Royals’ first national team championship.
“She brings an Olympic attitude,” Dugdale said. “A lot of the characteristics that made her an Olympian, we want to try and mimic amongst all of our athletes.”
Swimming against an Olympian, her competitors never stood a chance in Indianapolis. She broke a record each night of the championships, beginning with the 200 IM and also including the 200 freestyle (1:45.27) on Thursday, 500 freestyle (4:43.37) on Friday and 100 freestyle (48.92 seconds) Saturday.
At the end of all those races, the moment ends with a handshake or hug from Castro-Ortega with the swimmer in the next lane. The smiles come quickly.
“It is so much fun,” she said. “I just enjoy with my teammates.”
And that, she said, is what makes swimming in DII different than swimming in the Olympics or other international events for Spain. In the NCAA, it’s all about the team.
“It’s totally different,” she said. “The Olympics, I swim by myself. I mean, I have a team, but you have to swim just by yourself. Here, you swim for your team. It doesn’t matter how you feel, it doesn’t matter if you are tired, you have to swim for them. The environment is different. If I’m sad or tired, I have to deliver for my team. I need to swim fast.”
And she does exactly that.
But she is also still learning, and that makes her virtually unbeatable.
“What I enjoy about her most,” Dugdale said, “she still recognizes her areas of growth. So she’s very inviting to want to get better, to be challenged and to be pressed. That’s what makes it such a pleasure and blessing to coach her.”