Jackson High School graduate Nicole Limberg smiles during an event with the Rice University swim team. (Photo courtesy Rice University)

Jackson High School graduate Nicole Limberg smiles during an event with the Rice University swim team. (Photo courtesy Rice University)

Jackson High School alum thrives in pool despite pandemic

Nicole Limberg has been able to swim in two meets at Rice University, and she’s posted impressive times.

Nicole Limberg knows a little something about disruption to her training regimen.

The Jackson High School graduate, now a member of the Rice University women’s swim team in Houston, spent more than a month out of the pool during the summer between her sophomore and junior years at Rice, as she tried to regain her focus on swimming.

So while the coronavirus pandemic has played havoc with her senior season, she at least had an idea of what that disruption would feel like — as well as the fact that those type of disruptions can be overcome.

Limberg is thriving in the pool, despite the uncertainty the pandemic has cast upon her senior season, and she’s doing her best to make the best of a difficult situation.

”It’s been mixed emotions,” Limberg, who’s back home in Mill Creek for the holidays, said about her unusual senior season. “It can be frustrating, but at the same time I feel really lucky to be able to swim, knowing I have club teammates at other colleges who have had their seasons canceled. Knowing I can still swim is motivating.”

Limberg, who was The Herald’s 2017 Kristi Bartz Memorial Girls Athlete of the Year after a dominating senior season at Jackson, has been a standout for the Owls. Last season a junior she was named second-team All-Conference USA in the 200-yard medley relay and third-team all-conference in the 200 breaststroke and the 400 medley relay.

This season, despite competing in just two meets — Rice has an outdoor pool, which allows the Owls to compete — Limberg owns the third-best time in Conference USA in the 100 breaststroke (1 minute, 3.98 seconds), the fourth-best time in the 200 breast (2:20.51) and the fifth-best time in the 200 individual medley (2:06.91). Her personal best in the 200 breast (2:14.69) is the third-fastest in school history, and her personal best in the 100 breast (1:02.02) is fourth-fastest.

“I think in general I’ve been happy (with how I’ve performed),” Limberg said about her senior season. “I’ve been a little surprised with my times. The pandemic and not being able to train as much can really make you question how you are physically. But I’ve been impressed with my times in the breaststroke and the 200 IM.”

Having gone through something similar before has helped.

Limberg had a disappointing sophomore season at Rice, and the primary reason for that was because she was she was being not just a college athlete, but pursuing the full college student experience. That included volunteering at a children’s hospital — Limberg is a pre-med major — being a chemistry tutor and getting involved in various school clubs.

“My sophomore year I was passionate about being a college student,” Limberg said. “There were a lot of other things I wanted to be a part of and I really enjoyed that aspect. There was a lot of learning about how to balance extracurriculars with academics and athletics, and my times were bad and I didn’t have the same passion for swimming I had before.”

So Limberg took about a month-and-a-half off from the pool that summer to regroup and reassess.

“It wasn’t really time management, but separating all the actions and emotions from the extracurriculars so I could focus on swimming when it was time for practice and meets,” Limberg explained. “It can be scary taking those two months off, but I think it helped me regain my love for swimming. And knowing I had such a bad sophomore year I wanted to be a better teammate and athlete as a junior.”

Not only did it lead to a strong junior season, it prepared her for what was to come. When the pandemic hit it March it cut off the tail end of Rice’s season, and restrictions kept Limberg out of the pool until May. Her time in the water was limited through the summer, both because of the pandemic and because of her summer job teaching chemistry to eighth graders.

“Usually the summer is when you work really hard, it’s a big part of the training cycle,” Limberg said. “I think this kind of shows that while college swimming is about being physically there, at the same time there are other factors that go into how well you swim. You have to trust in the practices and what you’ve done, and you also have to have fun with it. This season hasn’t been as stressful, we all go into meets excited and feeling fortunate that we’re able to race, and I think my teammates have been surprised with their times as well.”

Rice has organized four more meets for January and February, and Limberg is hoping the Conference USA Championships will take place as scheduled on Feb. 24-27 in Atlanta. Although the NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to swimmers, Limberg is committed to attending medical school, so she knows this will be the conclusion of her collegiate swimming career.

But Limberg isn’t regretting that her final year has seen so much disruption.

“So far my senior year has still been extremely fun and rewarding. It hasn’t been a waste of time.”

If you have an idea for a community sports story, email Nick Patterson at npatterson@heraldnet.com.

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