Williams seeing success on the track, and in the pool

Williams+seeing+success+on+the+track%2C+and+in+the+pool

By Griffin Adams and Griffin Adams

— Chris Ayers

Two-sport athletes have become more common in collegiate athletics in recent years, but hardly do you hear a story similar to Utah athlete Rhianna Williams.

The sophomore from Colorado is a member of both the swim and track teams here at the U, causing some friends and family to think she has gone insane.

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“I think the track girls think I’m a little crazy, getting up early for practice,” Williams said. “They’ve been really supportive though. They come to my [swim] meets.”

From a young age, Williams lived in the water, swimming her way up the rankings throughout her high school prep swimming career. By the time she was a senior she was one of the most coveted swimmers in Colorado — winning the 50 and 100-yard freestyle races for the second consecutive season.

Because of her talents, Williams had her choice of schools after receiving a number of offers from Division-I programs. However, Williams wasn’t completely sold on any.

During her high school days, Williams wasn’t just content with competing in the pool, and decided to join the track team. It wasn’t until her sophomore year that she decided to take it seriously, and from that moment Williams found a new love for the track.

And she wasn’t bad either. As a junior, Williams was the Colorado 5A state champion in the 400-meter dash, and was poised to repeat in that as well before taking the advice of her coaches and withdrawing from the state meet due to injury.

During her recruiting process, Williams took official visits to schools for swimming, as that’s what she has done her entire life, but after seeing her run at the Colorado State Invitational her junior year, Utah head track and field coach Kyle Kepler decided he wanted to try and get her to run in the Beehive State.

Williams took a visit to Salt Lake City, and the next day Kepler received a surprising call from Williams telling him she was commiting to Utah.

“It was awesome. It was like a dream, this is how its supposed to work,” Kepler said jokingly.

As big of a get as Williams was for the track program, she was still hampered by injury her freshman season on campus. Because of that, Williams redshirted the indoor track season to heal, and took to the pool to help her recover.

In her time of rehabilitation, Williams re-discovered her love for the water and wondered if it would be possible for her to balance both sports while attending college.

Williams had asked Kepler when she committed to run track that if she ever “got the itch to swim again” if that could be a possibility. Kepler thought this wouldn’t be a problem and decided to run it by swimming head coach Joe Dykstra, who happily obliged.

The two coaches worked together to concoct a training schedule that would allow her to compete in both sports. According to both coaches, their number one concern for Williams was making sure she never felt overworked.

“[Kepler] and I, and our assistant coaches, have really done a thorough job of making a schedule that can work for her so we don’t overwhelm her, and still has a chance to recover,” Dykstra said.

Williams felt the wrath of being a two-sport athlete last week when both the swim and dive team and the track and field team were competing in their respective conference championships. While friends and teammates of Williams’ believe her to be of a superhuman nature, it was still impossible for her to be in two places at once.

Luckily for both teams, the championship meets were taking place just twenty miles apart from each other. The swim team competed in Federal Way, Wash. while the track championships were in Seattle.

To start off the week, Williams traveled with the swim team on Tuesday, but did not compete until Wednesday in the 100-yard freestyle trials. The next morning, she competed in the 50-yard freestyle, where she finished 21st overall with a time of 23.21.

Williams then had to gather up her things and head up to Seattle to get ready to compete at the MPSF Championships on the track. With no events scheduled, Friday would be Williams’ “day off,” but still did what she called a “shakeout” so that she can stay loose for her Saturday race.

“It’s just like a warm-up, some stretches to get ready,” Williams said.

On Saturday, Williams stepped on the track after two days of Pac-12 swimming competition under her belt, to compete in the 400-meter dash. At this point, most athletes’ legs would get heavy with all of the work being put in, but Williams isn’t most athletes.

Instead, Williams finished the race in 54.46 seconds, breaking the Utah school record.

“That was exciting because it seems like this season, I’ve been right around 55 [seconds], so it was nice to be able to finally knock off a good chunk,” Williams said of the record.

She didn’t have much time to celebrate, however, as she traveled back to Federal Way to compete in her final event, the 4×100-meter freestyle relay in the pool. Williams helped the relay finish in seventh place with a time of 3:19.25 to complete the hectic week.

Williams crazy five days as a two-sport athlete was over — at least until next season.

However, there’s no rest for Williams as she will be moving on to her next challenge of getting ready for the outdoor season.

When asked what it is about Williams that helps her get through such a physically-demanding schedule, Dykstra said, “she has a great deal of internal motivation … she loves to compete. She just loves to race, whether it’s running or swimming.”

Kepler responded with, “She loves it, she’s just one of those kids that just goes out there and puts it out there. She loves to compete, she’s a competitor.”

But despite already seeing a great deal of success early in her collegiate career, Williams has a simple answer to why she does what she does.

“I think for both of them, I still have a lot of potential, so it’s kind of hard to give one up when I know I can still improve.”

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@GriffDoug