Van't Wout Leads Special Class of Swimmers
Feb. 13, 2002
By Kurt Eilmes
Looking back at her previous three years on the Air Force women's swim team, senior Niki Van't Wout can't help but laugh.
With two last places and a second-to-last finish at the Mountain West Conference championships it was all she could do - especially following a successful high school and club career. "We were so bad I don't know if we won a meet," the Peachtree, Ga. native said between giggles. "We were last in everything we did. It's funny to see how bad we were."
Thanks to an improving Falcons' team, which has a 6-7 dual-meet record heading into this season's conference championships, Van't Wout is able to laugh and not feel bad.
"It's amazing to see how much we've grown since then," she added. "Our attitudes now, compared to then, are so much better. We want to win and we're training harder and putting in that extra effort.
"It's unreal to see the difference."
Now with only this season's MWC championship left on the schedule, the senior team captain said a finish among the top half of the league isn't out of the question. Van't Wout credits the turnaround to two things.
"We have a great group of freshman girls who are really fast and give us a lot of depth," she said.
Included in the first-years is Cheyenne Mountain grad Karen Long, who won the Class 4A high school title in the 50-yard freestyle last year.
The second reason is a core group of seniors which ranks among the best in AFA history and includes Van't Wout, a second generation cadet who specializes in the backstroke because - jokingly - she can breathe the whole time.
"There is no question about it," Air Force women's coach Casey Converse said. "This senior class has been one of our best. It's taken us some time to get some quality swimmers around them, but I think we've done that."
Leading that class is Van't Wout, who ranks second all-time at the AFA in the 200 back and is fourth in the 100 back in addition to being selected to the superintendent's list for military, academic and athletic excellence.
Also included is Karley Kroschel, who has added her name on the AFA's top 10 in the 200 butterfly.
"We're not a bunch of superstars but we're the foundation of the team and we know how to get things done," Kroschel said. "As a group of seniors we've become so much better and dropped so much time - I think Coach really admires what we've done."
One of the things this class has done is record the first conference win for the women's program.
"It happened last year - we hadn't won a conference meet until we beat San Diego State," Van't Wout said. "It came down to the last couple of events and we won by just a few points. I remember Coach was so happy."
In addition to improving the Falcons' finish from last season, Van't Wout is also motivated by another goal - to clock the school's fastest time in the 200 back.
With her best friend within striking distance of the record, Kroschel knows how much that milestone means to Van't Wout.
"I know it really drives her," she said. "It would be a fantastic way to end off a senior year."
However, Van't Wout has a better idea to cap off a career. "The group of seniors has stayed here all four years and we didn't do that well our first three years," she said. "This year we have a real shot of having an excellent last meet and finishing in the top three or four teams."