Swimming wasn’t even his first choice in college sports, but Thursday, March 20, Alex Sweet, 22, and a senior at Washington and Lee University, won the NCAA Division III national swimming title for the 50-yard freestyle at Miami University, Ohio.
Sweet, of Louisville, Ky., touched in a time of 19.85 seconds, breaking the previous NCAA 50-yard freestyle record set in 1999 of 19.90 seconds.
He also helped the W&L swim team finish eighth overall at the championship meet, tying their best finish in school history. Sweet is W&L’s fifth-ever national swimming champion, and the first national champion since Nathan Hottle won the 200-yard breast stroke in 1995.
At 6 foot 7 inches, Sweet initially planned to play basketball at W&L, but two medical incidents in a row changed his plans. “First I broke my leg,” he said. “It was a very bad stress fracture and I was on crutches for weeks. And then, the day before I was supposed to start practicing with the team, I was diagnosed with mononucleosis and was hospitalized with a temperature of 104 degrees. I lost 25 to 30 pounds and all my strength, which isn’t good for basketball.”
Having dabbled in swimming in high school, Sweet swam intramurally as a freshman for his fraternity at W&L and, receiving encouragement from both the swim coach and members of the swim team, he decided to switch to swimming.
The road to the national title wasn’t without some drama. The day before he was due to swim in the Kenyon Invitational in 2007, his house at W&L was destroyed by fire. Sweet lost all his personal belongings but took it all in stride. “I lost everything, but I wasn’t going to miss the meet – I could deal with the fire when I got back. My non-existent stuff wasn’t going anywhere.” Sweet borrowed swim gear (suit, goggles) and went on to set a new school record in the 100-yard freestyle, as well as leading off the 400-yard freestyle relay which also set a school record.
On winning the national title, Sweet gives credit to the W&L swim coach Joel Shinofield. “He has a bunch of motivational sayings. The one I like the best is -- have the arrogance to believe and the humility to perform. I really like that. I wanted to go out there the best way I could, but I didn’t know if I could win.”
Sweet capped off his success at the NCAAs by qualifying to participate in the United States Olympic Trials held June 29 - July 6 at the Qwest Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. He met the qualifying standard in the 50 meter freestyle while participating in a time trial held at the Toyota Grand Prix hosted by Ohio State University at the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion on Friday, April 4. He completed the trial in 23.39.
Sweet’s accomplishments are not limited to swimming. A bio-chemistry major, he is a scholar-athlete at W&L as well as at conference level, he was named a College Swim Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Academic All-American in 2007 after posting a grade point average of over 3.5 during winter term and competing at the 2007 NCAA Championships.
An eight-time All-American, Sweet concludes his collegiate career at W&L as a record holder in three individual events (50-, 100- and 200-yard freestyle), and four relays (200-, 400-, and 800-yard freestyle relays, and the 400-yard medley).
As for his future plans, Sweet says there’s a "small chance" of swimming competitively in his first year of medical school at the University of Louisville next year. "We’re looking into whether I will still have one year of eligibility left."