U’s Kaiser leaving a legacy

U swimming standout Kristen Kaiser will swim in her final home meet this Saturday against Colorado State and more than just the Ute Natatorium glass will be misty.

The meet will be an emotional one for Kaiser, her teammates, and especially for head coach Mike Litzinger, who spoke of Kaiser as if she were his daughter.

“Kristen and I came into the program together, so if you’re a parent, she’s like your first child,” Litzinger said. “One of the things that we decided we wanted to do together was build a successful program in the Mountain West, and she’s been as integral a part of that achievement as anybody here.”

The success that Litzinger and Kaiser built didn’t come overnight, however. It took the two the better part of four years to finally bring the U women’s swimming program into contention for a conference championship this year, and the transformation that took place over those four years has been astounding.

“Oh God…talk about a complete 180,” Kaiser said. “My freshman year was total chaos. I got a call in July before I came to Utah telling me that the coach I signed under had left, and I was scared out of my mind. But it turned out to be the best thing that could have ever happened.”

Kaiser flourished immediately under Litzinger’s tutelage, setting the MWC record in the 400-meter individual medley in her freshman season at the conference championships. In addition to her 400 IM dominance, she set two more school records on her way to third-place finishes in the 500- and 1000-meter freestyle.

But what impresses Litzinger most about his prized pupil is her resiliency.

“She had a little bit of a down sophomore year, in that she didn’t break any records or win any events at the conference meet,” Litzinger said. “But she’s one of the most coachable, one of the most teachable and easily one of the hardest trainers I’ve ever come across. So the fact that she turned it around last year wasn’t really a big surprise.”

In her junior season, Kaiser broke her own conference record in the 400 IM by more than a second at the MWC championships and contributed heavily to the first-place 800 meter freestyle relay team. She also set two other school records at that meet in the 500-meter freestyle and the 200-meter butterfly while finishing second and third respectively.

In short, Kaiser has accomplished a bevy of feats in just three seasons, but when asked to recount the most memorable moments of her career, she doesn’t talk about her records.

“Number one on my list has gotta be when we beat BYU for the first time in school history last year,” Kaiser said. “And then, I guess, just being part of a team that’s on its way up, and what it took to get there, stands out the most in my mind.”

It is obvious that Kaiser is a team player in a largely individual sport-obvious because of her fond memories, and obvious because of her goals.

“My biggest goal would be for the women’s team to win the conference meet,” she said, “and I also want to finish out the year having it been my best year.”

Coach Litzinger has similar goals for Kaiser, but he was quick to point out that she had already accomplished a great deal.

“She’s set school records, she’s set conference records, she’s made U.S. National championships, she’s placed in the U.S. Open, so she’s pretty much done everything there is to do as a college swimmer except qualify for the NCAAs,” Litzinger said. “But that would be icing and candles on the cake. If her career ended right now, I think she’d be very satisfied, and I know I would be coaching her, so everything from here on out is just gravy.”

Kaiser will be honored this Saturday at a poolside ceremony during the meet against Colorado State. Being honored alongside her will be the only senior on the men’s team, Trent Shino.

“He’s been a great leader for our men’s team,” Litzinger said. “He worked his way up from a walk on to a guy who scores at the conference championship level, so that speaks volumes about his resolve.”

The two seniors have both seen drastic changes in their respective programs, but it’s safe to say that the changes were completely positive.

“It will certainly be a different pool deck without them, but they will leave knowing that the program is better off than when they came,” Litzinger said.

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