Just when they thought the end was near, former Badger swimmers Ashley Wanland and senior Michael Weiss held on to their dreams and turned them into a reality. Earlier this month, USA Swimming added them to the 2012-13 United States national team roster.
After graduating this spring, Wanland thought she had seen the last of her competitive swimming days. For 15 years, it was most of what she knew and nearly all she did.
Reflecting on the past two months, Wanland admitted she experienced a wide range of emotions. As she geared up to accomplish two huge milestones — becoming a Wisconsin alumnus and swimming at the U.S. Olympic Trials — it was difficult to imagine what life would be like if she was to hang up the towel.
“Not only do I love to race, I also love being surrounded by such a hardworking and talented group of men and women,” Wanland said. “After I was told I made the U.S. national team, I was extremely happy because I thought the swimming door that was once closed was open again.”
Wanland finished her senior campaign with infectious effort and some of the strongest finishes of her career.
She is currently ranked 16th in the world in the 100-meter breaststroke, timing in at 59.17 seconds at the 2012 Big Ten Championships, her final collegiate race. Wanland also won the 200 medley with a time of 1:37.34 at the same event. The Long Grove, Ill., native earned All-American honorable mention honors after her performance in the 400 medley relay (3:34.78) at last year’s NCAA Championships.
Wanland called her parents and siblings her biggest fans and attributed her success to the passion she puts into her gift as well as the sacrifices her family has made as her swimming career has progressed.
“I feel proud that the hard work I put into the sport paid off,” she said. “Being a part of this Wisconsin team is a very special privilege. Hopefully this gives my teammates confidence that anyone through hard work and commitment can also make the national team.”
Standing proudly alongside his former teammate Wanland, Weiss is a senior Wisconsin swimmer and All-American who has dominated the 400 individual medley. At the 2012 U.S. Open in Indianapolis, Weiss won the 400 IM, clocking in at 4:15.79.
But the win that secured him the 23rd fastest time in the world didn’t end his career day. It also played a key role in helping him land a spot on the U.S. roster and on the 2013 World University Games roster, set to begin in July 2013 in Kazan, Russia. The 400 IM is a traditionally strong event for the United States, with swimming stars like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte powering recent Olympic teams.
During his time at Wisconsin, Weiss has developed a deep focus, something to which he attributed much of his success.
“Before a race, I stretch out and get as relaxed and pumped up as possible,” Weiss said. “I never listen to music before I race because no song can get me as pumped up as [the] thousands of people cheering in the stands.”
Along with the growth in leadership and maturity he has gained while swimming for the Badgers, Weiss has broken two school records. He finished third in the 400 IM and placed in the top 16 in the 200 breaststroke at last year’s NCAA Championships.
“It has been a goal of mine for many years to make the U.S. national team and is a dream come true now that it has finally happened,” Weiss said. “I grew up in a swimming family and I’ve been swimming my entire life. It is in my blood, and it’s what I do.”
Guiding the two Badger swimmers to a spot on the national team is head coach Whitney Hite, who is heading into his second season at UW. After athletic director Barry Alvarez named Hite head coach of the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams in May 2011, he came prepared to catapult this program to a higher level of success.
Known for his intensity, Hite explained his approach in helping the Wisconsin swimming program continue to produce national team-level success.
“There is an expectation of personal excellence, whether it be in the pool or the classroom; we just want you to be the best you can be,” Hite said. “If you set a record, gain five points in a meet or have a 4.0 grade point average, it’s all about maximizing your potential.”
When asked about what it means both personally and to the Wisconsin program to have two of his pupils named to the national team roster, the coach gleamed with emotion as he described the accomplishment.
“It’s a huge deal. It’s an honor,” Hite said. “It is the best team in the world and to have two people on it is outstanding. Michael and Ashley are both deserving and have embraced the pursuit of personal excellence.”