Not too many NCAA All-Americans can tell you they walked onto a college roster, or sincerely say they expected to be one of the less talented athletes on the team.
But fourth-year distance free swimmer Chelsea Allocco can.
“Actually, I was not very good in high school,” Allocco said, laughing about her unfathomable level of improvement that has warranted her multiple All-SUNYAC titles, broken records and national championship appearances. “I just loved to swim and knew I wanted to pursue it in college.”
Allocco’s love for swimming stemmed from her fixation with water at a young age – an obsession that alarmed her parents, who wanted to take precautionary measures.
“My parents were always afraid, because if I would be anywhere near a pool I would just jump in – I wouldn’t care that I didn’t know how to swim yet, I would just get in the water,” she said. “So they put me in swimming lessons when I was four and I loved it.”
Two years later, Allocco began participating in summer swim teams, and swimming and competing year-round by age eight.
But when she entered Chatham High School in New Jersey, Allocco was a little fish in a big pond. With a slew of talent, multiple county titles and second-place finishes at the state tournament, Allocco said she was one of the weaker swimmers on the team.
With no “big times” to illustrate her capabilities to recruiting college coaches, Allocco said she contacted New Paltz Head Coach Scott Whitbeck.
“I kind of reached out to him first and I was more of a walk-on,” she said, adding that Whitbeck’s coaching style and personality were key reasons why she chose to swim for the Lady Hawks.
Upon entering the program as a freshman in 2010, Allocco said she was just happy to be part of the team and looking to perform her best. That modest positivity began to grow into justified optimism, however, after the first week into the season, where Allocco posted a record time in her first meet.
“I was like ‘wow, that’s pretty cool. This is going to be a pretty good season,’” Allocco said.
Training hard the remainder of the season, Allocco surpassed any expectations she had going into her first SUNYAC tournament and realized she had potential on both the conference and national level.
“I dropped crazy amounts of time – I won the 400 individual medley and the mile and came runner up in the 500 [freestyle],” she said. “I wasn’t expecting any of that. Then my coach told me I made the “B” cut for nationals. From that time on, I kind of realized I could do really well.”
And she has. This year alone Allocco has set the Elting Pool record for the 1,000 meter freestyle (10:40.94), earned the Grace Mowatt award for exceptional achievements in and out of the pool, and once again attended the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, where last year she placed 16th in the 1,650 freestyle with a time of 17:21.54 and received honorable Mention All-America honors.
Her favorite memory of her college career? Competing at last season’s SUNYAC Tournament during her mile race when she qualified for nationals, lapping everyone in the process and watching her competitors finish the race she had won.
“She is the best distance free swimmer the program has ever seen,” Whitbeck said, citing Allocco’s dedication to every aspect of her life as the factor that sets her apart and has allowed her to reach the level of success she has.
Allocco said if she’s working hard, she works hard at everything, or else she does nothing at all. Along with her various accomplishments in the water, Allocco boasts a 3.72 GPA.
Ask her teammates, and it is clear “Allocco” and “hard-work” are synonymous.
“Chelsea’s work ethic and passion for swimming are unmatched by anyone I know,” fourth-year distance free swimmer Kelly Durma said. “She has been a leader on our team for the past two years and I am very proud to call her my captain both of those years.”
Third-year breast stroke swimmer Samantha Granan said Allocco is the embodiment of “the ideal student-athlete” and a driving force behind the achievements of the team.
“She is always dedicated to bettering herself,” Granan said. “During a long, hard practice it is easy to just want to give up. Chelsea never does, and is often the one motiving the rest of the team to keep up the good work or tell us that we are almost done. That is so crucial to the success of our team, even if it is just one person doing the motivating it often gets everyone else into the right mind set to work hard and be successful.”
But Allocco said this motivation is a two-way street, and the support of her teammates has meant everything to her and is the reason behind her accomplishments.
“I can’t swim fast on my own,” she said. “It’s always for the teammates. When I get my best times, it’s because when I look to the side I can see my teammates cheering for me, and that’s the only reason I can swim fast. When I set the record for the pool the reason I was able to do that was because my teammates, the entire 40 laps, were jumping up and down on the side screaming for me.”
This played a large part in Allocco’s 17:15.90 time and 18th place finish in the 1,6500 freestyle at this year’s National Championship in Indianapolis, IN.; not finishing within the top 16 times, she did not receive All-American honors. Being at the competition with just Whitbeck, Allocco said it was hard to get excited and motivated without her team.
Although she is disappointed in not ending her collegiate career with a second All-American accolade, she is proud of what she has accomplished as a Hawk and is looking forward to her life after college. A double major in computer science and mathematics, Allocco will be working next year as a computer software developer for Goldman Sachs.
As for swimming, Allocco hopes to continue to keep it a part of her life and possibly pass it on in the future.
“If my kids want to swim that’s cool, but I don’t want to force them to swim,” she said. “I just want them to do some sport or activity, and work hard at whatever they do.”