Becky Baker, a senior member of the New Paltz Women’s Swimming squad, said certain habits set her apart. She does the same stretches before she gets in the pool, in fear that she’ll “swim slow” otherwise. She eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at every meet. And she cites her greatest strength as a swimmer as sometimes being a weakness in other aspects of her life – her tendency to put pressure on herself to win.
But Baker’s coaches said her competitiveness and passion for racing have helped her deliver record-breaking performances and swim on the national level.
Baker, who was recruited by the Hawks during her senior year of high school, broke three Elting Pool records in a meet with SUNY Cortland at the end of January. According to Head Coach Scott Whitbeck, she was the breaststroke leg of the school record 200 medley relay and a part of the pool-record setting 200 freestyle relay.
During New Paltz’s 142-115 victory, Baker also reset her 100 breaststroke pool record, covering the four-lap event in 1:07.66. At the meet, she also finished first in the 200 breaststroke with a time of 2:33.30.
“It was probably the greatest dual meet of my college career – to go out with a bang like that was awesome,” she said. “I was honored to be a part of those relay teams and so excited to be swimming that fast at such a tough part of our season.”
Whitbeck said this “fired up” competitor that he met when he took over coaching the team in June 2008 is no stranger to accomplishments in the pool. He said he hopes she will continue to add to her list of achievements, which include being a two-time NCAA All-American, the 2010 SUNYAC champion in the 100 breast, a six-time SUNYAC individual finalist and two-time consolation finalist in individual events.
The veteran’s personal accolades have made an impact on the entire swimming team, according to the coach.
“It has helped give a national focus to the women’s team. Our women have qualified athletes for the NCAA Championships in five of the past six seasons, and have a great opportunity to do that again this year,” Whitbeck said. “Her ability in breaststroke [also] makes us the front runner to win both medley relays at conference this year.”
Calling the 100 breast her signature event, Whitbeck said Baker has what is now referred to as “old school’” breaststroke, dependent on power rather than a wave style.
Her strength, which Baker said she developed through different training methods like Crossfit, is what Whitbeck said helps her move very fast in the 50 and 100 distances
“No one ever beats her in the first 50 of a 100 breast,” he said. “There is no one I would rather have in the pool in a close race at short distance than Becky.”
Baker hopes to defend her title in the 100 breast as she and her “family” of teammates prepare for the SUNYAC Swimming and Diving Championships beginning Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. She said her medley relay team, which also consists of Yuka Suzuka, Carly Marshall and Christine Reith, are aiming to take the conference title.
Whitbeck said Baker and the other swimmers will also look to compete at the national level with times that would qualify them for the NCAA Championships beginning on March 23 in Knoxville, Tenn.
After having earned an NCAA Consideration time for nationals in the 100 breast every year as a swimmer, Baker said she and her teammates are ready to show the conference and the nation what they are made of.
“The team hopes to improve just by swimming fast. Everyone wants to win, of course,” Baker said. “But if we each individually reach our best times that will be enough to be happy about and celebrate.”