By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
What a run Shannon Vreeland has put together the past three years. The gold she won in London was followed two short course golds at Short Course Worlds in Turkey and three golds at the 2013 Worlds in Barcelona. She also helped lead Georgia to back-to-back NCAA titles, defending the title last weekend. The Kansas native talks about what’s gone down, and what’s up next, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Everyone talks about how hard repeating is, and some of the teams this year were just loaded with talent and seemed ready to take the title away – isn’t that accurate?
Shannon: Actually, I think the mentality that maybe we might not be able to do it again kind of helped us. I mean, we didn’t have that mentality, but you hear things, you read things, and people were not sure we could do that again. The girls took that and ran with it – kind of, “You think we can’t do this so we are going to do this.”
2. Losing Allison Schmitt and Megan Romano from 2013, that’s some big shoes to fill, but didn’t a lot of people take it upon their shoulders to replace those incredible women?
Shannon: It was cool because last year people thought it was a foregone conclusion we would win with Allison and Megan here. This year was kind of cool to see people step into roles they might not have thought they would be able to do. It was such a cool team to watch, and so motivational to be part of that.
3. More hardware for your trophy case?
Shannon: I think at least for me it’s always about the journey. I get disappointed if I don’t do well, or do my best.
4. Disappointed? You?
Shannon: I was disappointed (laughs) after my 500 at NCAAs, so yes, that does happen! For me at least, winning is never the expectation. Sometimes it’s definitely a goal, and it’s always a goal to do the best I can. But as long as I am enjoying it and having a good time, the place next to my name doesn’t matter as much, if that makes sense; I am more concerned about doing my best and helping the team.
5. That works for the team competition, doesn’t it?
Shannon: I want to score as many points as I can for the team and do as well as possible, but as long as it’s fun, I’m good with that. I was just as happy with my 100 free (fifth) as I was with the 200 free (second).
6. With Jack Bauerle not on deck at NCAAs, what does it say that you all could still win?
Shannon: It really does speak to how well the coaches prepare us at practice, day in and day out. We always got the question, and of course we missed him. In basketball and football, you need to have your coach there calling plays, but in swimming, having him there day in and day out, and the greatest coaching staff with Harvey (Humphries), Stefanie (Williams) and everyone, we should always be able to go out and do our best.
7. So in a way did it show how solid the program is?
Shannon: It showed the strength of Jack’s coaching and his staff without him there. It was a testament to him. I think we were all swimming a little extra hard because he wasn’t there. It was weird when you’d have a bad swim, that’s when you really appreciate how great Jack is as a person, but Harvey is great and Stef is fantastic. It brought out just as much good as anything.
8. All of the gold medals from the Olympics and Worlds, and two Georgia team titles, multiple-All Americans – if someone would have told you three years ago what was in store for you, how would you have reacted?
Shannon: I honestly don’t know how I could have thought of it happening like this. I definitely would not have believed it, first of all!
9. Winning the back-to-back titles when college women’s swimming is so loaded with talent, what kind of accomplishment is that?
Shannon: It speaks a lot of the Georgia program. This is not, coming out of high school, what I would have expected. I knew coming out of high school that we’d be in the running for a national title. But when I came here, I just had a goal of scoring some points at SECs and contributing to the team, and improving all four years.
10. How much did Jack and the staff and the University of Georgia add to your ability as a swimmer?
Shannon: I think this team, and this program, has helped me out so much, in terms of confidence and swimming ability. My Dad talks about that all the time, how crazy it is – how far I have come since I came to Georgia.
11. Are you still just as busy outside of the pool with all of the work you do and involvement in campus activities and causes?
Shannon: I’m still just doing a few honor societies and organizations. I have backed off a little bit being a senior, not wanting to get involved in too many things before I leave. So I am still in the same two honor societies, and I am an executive for a women’s honor society.
12. So where will you swim and will you continue?
Shannon: Well, I will still be here for the fall semester, which I am pretty excited about. I don’t have many hours. I had to decide if I would keep swimming, and so I saved a couple of hours to see if I could be a fifth-year swimmer, not on the team but training with them. We’ll see how that goes. After that I am not really sure.
13. Where would you go?
Shannon: I have talked to Bob (Bowman) a little bit at North Baltimore about going up there. A lot of it is up in the air. A lot depends on how this summer goes.
14. Your boyfriend seems like the nicest guy – we hear a lot about how dating a swimmer helps, but since he’s not a swimmer, what is that like?
Shannon: It is kind of nice. Sometimes when you have a really bad swim and are dating someone who is a swimmer, they can’t be like “Good job” because they know it’s bad. After my 500 didn’t go so well at NCAAs, he told me, “It’s crazy how you feel different every day, isn’t it.” I said, “Going four seconds slower is not feeling different, it’s just a really bad swim.” He said, “Well, it doesn’t feel like it” and I just felt so good about things after that and appreciated him so much more. It’s good to be able to talk about things other than swimming, at least for me. Sometimes I’ll text him and tell him, “Call me and talk about nothing,” and so he’ll call me and have a ton of things on his mind, plus he’s very involved in campus activities, so I get to hear about the exciting things in his life.
15. Going from eastern Kansas to Georgia, how did you adjust?
Shannon: I think getting away and going to school away from a majority of people you have grown up with forces you outside of your comfort zone. That’s a good thing for this point in my life, branching out on my own and meeting different people in a different area – and from around the world considering our enrollment is so diverse at UGA.
16. So I have to ask this being a Coloradan transplanted in Texas: When I go out in cold weather now, it affects me way more than before. What about you?
Shannon: Completely the case for me (laughs), too! My Dad makes fun of me for it, he’s like, “What happened?” Even girls here, I used to be able to wear shorts until the day it snowed. Now, I’m in a sweatshirt when the suns not out. No one from freshman year would have believed I’d change like that.
17. Your parents are such a huge part of your life and success, how do they stay so upbeat and how has that affected you?
Shannon: You have met my parents and talked to them, so you know that my Mom just radiates happiness, she really does. She’s just so friendly and positive and happy. I know when I used to get down on myself at swim meets, she’d say, “Come on, it’s only a swim meet, you have a million other things going for you.” That has definitely stuck with me, that no matter what’s happening, you have to stay positive and remember all the good. And that is great advice. That always helps. I think my parents had a huge role in a lot of that. At Georgia, we have people on the staff here like that, so when you see Harvey coming in super perky and ready to go, it’s just hard to be in a bad mood.
18. So many things have to happen to win a title, both in and out of your control. Picking the winners at NCAA swimming this year was harder than the basketball bracket – did you all feel like you matched up well with the other schools in key events?
Shannon: I think going into it we knew we had a really good shot. We knew we would swim as well as we did at SECs. We know that relays have DQs, and there are DQs in individual events, that someone will be sick and others will be off, so you just have to prepare. We had this team meeting the first night and we said, “It looks like on paper that we’ve got this, but people are going to come out and go super fast.” I mean, look at what Stanford did, they had a fantastic meet. That can happen at any meet, any day. Laura (Ryan) was a huge key to that, she’s our diver, and she won on a board that is not historically her favorite board. So we get that win, and then Olivia (Smoliga) wins the 50 free, and Brittany (MacLean) won the 500, and then you saw what Brittany did (in the 1000 and 1650) – someone steps up like this, and it really gets the team going. People just kept stepping up, and that’s how we won.
19. You did something with ESPNU on camera, can you tell us about that?
Shannon: Breeja Larson and I did an interview before we started the meet – we just interviewed each other, and had a conversation about what our favorite part of NCAAs are. And we agreed it was that it is so fun to see people from the Olympic and National Teams who we care about swim, and swim well. That is a really cool, unique part of swimming, competing against people and being happy to see them do well. I mean, when I saw Felicia Lee on the podium tearing up, I almost started crying; I know the ups and downs she has worked through, and I was so happy for her to see her swim like that at NCAAs. It’s just so unique to swimming that these people you swim against are some of your good friends, and you get to know them so well. You don’t see that as much in other sports.
20. How have the last four years shaped you, and what has it taught you about yourself?
Shannon: In high school I wasn’t as social, maybe social is not the right word, but at least I was not that outgoing. I came here very quiet and very reserved. I developed a lot of confidence from being part of this team and being at this amazing university. I had coaches, teammates, professors, classmates and friends who helped me grow into the adult I am today. That’s the thing with the coaches here, they are more concerned about you developing as a person and being ready for your life even though they want to see you become the best swimmer you can, too. You are cared for here on so many levels, which is why you see people do fantastic things here both inside and outside of the program. I am a different person now, I have an education, direction and confidence I did not have before. I have a lot of people here at Georgia to thank for that, and I am very grateful.