By Gina de Haan
Prior to coming to Calvin junior swimmer Anna Serino was on a college hunt that had her searching all over the country. After considering an array of schools, Serino decided to become a Knight because of the team-oriented swim culture, strong academics and community focus.
"I was looking for a smaller school because I wanted to get to know my professors and learn in a smaller classroom," said the Pinckney, Michigan native. "Swimming was also a big factor. I was looking all over the place, from New York to Texas – everywhere. A couple people on my club swim team had gone to Calvin, they didn't swim here, but that's how I heard about it. In the end, I was between a couple other schools in the MIAA and Calvin. I visited and the facilities were great, the exercise science program was really good and, after talking to Dan [Gelderloos], I really liked his focus on team culture."
Serino, a pre-occupational therapy major, is a three-year member of the Calvin Swimming and Diving team that boasts a current streak of 13 consecutive MIAA Championships.
"It's been an amazing experience so far," Serino reflects. "Growing up, I did a lot of club swimming, which wasn't as team based. I was part of a great team, but the focus wasn't really on working together. It wasn't about the team winning or losing, like it is in dual meets here at Calvin. I've realized that's a lot of fun. There's a lot of pressure sometimes, making sure the right people are winning in certain events to get enough and calculating our score, but it's cool to be able to win together. I think we do a really good job coming together as a team and really fighting for each other."
MAKING A SPLASH
Serino has also collected a number of personal achievements as a two-time All-MIAA swimmer and two-time competitor in the NCAA Division III Championships. At this year's MIAA Championships, Serino took second place in the 200 and 500 freestyle.
While her individual accomplishments are impressive, Serino is eager to credit her team for her success.
"The team is so important for me. If you're just swimming for yourself, I think you're really not going to get anywhere. But, swimming for other people really lasts. As a freestyler, especially at the MIAA Championships, it's really awesome to have a lot of the team watching and cheering us on."
The Knights sweep of the 200-yard freestyle at the MIAA Championships was a memorable moment for Serino as she shared the podium with senior Abby VanHarn, senior Madelyn Smith, sophomore Libby Engle and junior Kendall Murphy.
"Winning was awesome, but even while we were walking out before the race, it was cool to just see that we had five people in the final heat. You work so hard with them every day, you know how well they can do and then just being a part of it all is really awesome and motivational."
At this year's NCAA Division III Championships Serino swam on Calvin's All-America 400 yard and 800-yard freestyle relay teams that helped the Knights finish 11th in the nation. Last season, Serino was a part of Calvin's 800 freestyle team that earned All-America honors and competed at the national championship meet.
"At nationals, we didn't have 70 people on the side of the pool cheering us on, but Dan always reminds us that we didn't get there ourselves, that there may have been only 15 of us there, but we wouldn't have been there without those 60 other people who were there all season," said Serino. "That's a really big part of who we are and why we've achieved so many great things."
FROM THE TOP DOWN
Coaching has been another important aspect of Serino's experience at Calvin, as she's grown under the director of Dan Gelderloos, who recently completed his 22nd season as the Calvin swimming and diving coach.
"Dan is a great coach. He's kind of swim nerd," says Serino with a smile. "He's really into swimming stats and what the newest thing is. He's always researching, looking on all the swim websites, learning what the best coaches and programs are doing and then trying to connect it with everyone on our team. I know that whenever we do something, there's a purpose to it."
"I also think Dan does a really good job of making a culture of getting to know the people that you're with by spending a lot of time together, which strengthens the team a lot," says Serino. "He emphasizes how important every single person on the team is, no matter if they're scoring points or not. Every single person has a purpose on the team. Everyone needs to respect everyone else's purposes and then play off each other's strengths and compensate for each others' weaknesses."
PASSING OF THE TORCH
Serino has also grown under the leadership of standout, All-American senior captain Abby Van Harn. Van Harn is a four-time All-MIAA honoree and three-time competitor in the NCAA Division III Championships. Moreover, Serino considers Van Harn to be one of her closest friends on the team.
"Abby is definitely a leader on the team, but she's not what people would maybe think as a typical leader. She's not super outgoing, but is quieter and leads by example with what she's doing. I've learned a lot from that. Everyone can be a leader, no matter what kind of personality you have. Abby shows that you don't have to be the loudest, bossiest or most in charge person to lead, which is important to recognize."
"I've also learned a lot from her drive and competitiveness," Serino adds. "She came into swimming with a very different background than the rest of us. A lot of us had swam club and had a lot technical swimming knowledge, while she was really good at swimming, but didn't have a lot of background in the knowledge and strategy. I think she learned a ton and certainly applied it very well. She was constantly learning and always open to new things, which was inspiring to see."
With Van Harn will graduating this spring and heading to the University of Michigan for graduate school, Serino knows there are big shoes to fill, but is confident in the Knights' future. "Abby is a big presence on the team, a great leader and a great friend. We overlap a little bit in the mid-distance events, so it's cool to be able to race with her. They'll be a big gap to fill, but our class is really strong as a whole, so I think that will help a lot."
Despite her busy schedule as a two-semester student-athlete, Serino has excelled in the classroom as well as the pool. As a pre-occupational therapy major with a psychology minor, she is a Dean's List student and a two-time member of the MIAA Academic Honor Roll.
"Swimming keeps me busy, but the structure forces me to manage my time well," she notes. "We have practice at three, so I know I have to get things done before then. I have to go to bed early because we also have practice at six in the morning, so I get things done before I go to bed. There's not a lot of time to waste and that's good."
This summer, Serino will apply to graduate school and plans to go on to get her masters or doctorate in occupational therapy after she finishes up at Calvin.
SWIMMING BEYOND GRAND RAPIDS
With a season that spans both semesters, studying abroad is difficult for swimmers, but Serino appreciates the traveling opportunities she's had with her team.
"It's a great experience to have, and it's really cool that Calvin Athletics gives that opportunity to us, even though we might not be able to travel abroad for interim or a semester," she says.
Over Christmas break, the Calvin swimming and diving teams traveled to Trinidad and Tobago for a mid-season training trip.
"It was definitely nice to get away, to be warm for a little bit and to get a chance of scenery, especially in the middle of the winter here," Serino remembers. "I think all the trips have been very important in terms of team bonding. You get to know people on the team really well when we're traveling, taking bus rides and you're stuck with them all week. You come away from those experiences knowing everyone on your team a lot better, which is really cool heading into the second semester. It helps you know how to best encourage people and to grow as a team.
During Serino's first two years at Calvin, the Knights spent Christmas break training in Florida, but she enjoyed growing closer with her teammates in a different country.
"This year was especially different than the other trips because there weren't a lot of opportunities for us to leave where we were staying. When we go to Florida, we all spread out – everyone goes their separate ways for dinner and everything. This year, we were in a smaller area and everyone was together a lot more, so I think we especially had a lot of bonding."
Overall, Serino has enjoyed Calvin in many aspects, but the strong student-athlete community has been a highlight.
"I go to as many Calvin sporting events as I can, especially to see the swimmers that play other sports like lacrosse, track and field and baseball. It's fun to see them compete in different sports and it's cool that they're able to do that at this level. I try to see at least one event of every sport every year. I think it's really important to support other athletes in the Calvin community"
"The thing I love about Division III is that everyone is participating in their sports because they love it," she says. "There's no big incentives like scholarships or feeling like you have to compete. There are a different set of motivations; there's the team, the coach, the academics, the facilities and lots of other opportunities and that's what I think is really cool about D3. It creates a much better team atmosphere because you have people getting scholarships cut or trying to be better than other people on their own team. There's a strong sense of community here."