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Despite early struggles, Dalesandro proving key in senior year



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Senior Gia Dalesandro competes in the women's 200-yard butterfly heat at IU's meet against Louisville at the end of January. Dalesandro was named an All-American in five different events following this weekend's NCAA Championships. Victor Grössling Buy Photos

Though senior swimmer Gia Dalesandro struggled to maintain mental game, she’s learned not to care.

“I think the mental part is the hardest part,” Dalesandro said. “I definitely used all my resources to help with that.”

In her freshman year, Dalesandro came in with a carefree and loose mentality that allowed her to excel in the pool. In her first season as a Hoosier, Dalesandro was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and won the conference championship in the 200-yard butterfly with a Big Ten record of 1:53.95. Dalesandro also earned honorable mention All-America honors in the 200- and 400-yard medley relays.

However, in both her sophomore and junior seasons, Dalesandro’s mental state changed. She said she became more focused on the times and numbers as opposed to the actual swimming. Although she was still posting solid results and earning postseason honors, including four All-America honors at the 2016 NCAA Championships, Dalesandro said she didn’t feel that she was swimming to her full capability.

“I think freshman year I was so good because I was so naïve,” Dalesandro said. “I was just like ‘yeah, this is fun.’ Then sophomore year I kind of elevated my expectations of that. I was worried about the numbers, stuff like that. Then my junior year I think I was just kind of going through the motions.”

As Dalesandro began to lose her mental edge, she decided to take a step back going in to her senior season. After the 2016 Olympic trials Dalesandro spent the summer at home and took a break from swimming.

“Then I came back, and I was refreshed and excited to be back,” Dalesandro said. "I was happy to be here, instead of being like, ‘Oh I’m being forced to be here.’”

Thanks to the time off and some help from her high school club coach Dave Krotiak, Dalesandro was able to refocus herself in preparation for her final year of competition.

“Our goals are always the same, which is that use the opportunities that you have,” Krotiak said. “She has swam at a high level, I’ve coached at a high level, and we both know what’s expected from each other, and so it’s an easy fit when she’s able to roll in and out of town. I usually ask her who she’s had in her season, what her needs are and then I try to accommodate those while she’s in town.”

For Dalesandro, Krotiak has proven to be a rock to lean on both as a swimmer and as a mentor not only last summer but throughout her career.

“He’s been such a resource to me,” Dalesandro said. “And so whenever I go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas or even last summer, for the whole summer he was working with me before trials. So he always has an open door. I can always go in and either train with him or chat with him and we have a great relationship.”

Thus far, Dalesandro has lived up to all the expectations she had for her senior season and has done so by keeping it simple.

“I haven’t put a whole lot of pressure on myself, just a couple minor goals,” Dalesandro said. “I’ve kind of just enjoyed the year, and I think that that’s really, really helped.”

This season Dalesandro won both 100- and 200-yard butterfly against Purdue and was named the Big Ten Swimmer of the Week on Jan. 24 by collegeswimming.com. Dalesandro also finished third in the 100-yard butterfly and second in the 200-yard butterfly at the USA College Challenge, a meet in which Team USA took on a squad of Big Ten All-Stars.

“She’s a leader by example,” IU Coach Ray Looze said. “She wins a lot of races and just has a really good competitive engine.”

And with all the success Dalesandro had during the dual meet season, the Big Ten Championships last week offered a glimpse into what Dalesandro is capable of.

At the Big Ten Championships, Dalesandro was named First-Team All-Big Ten after a number of high results including the defense of her 200-yard butterfly crown, an event she’s now won four years in a row.

However, the real highlight of the week for Dalesandro came in the 100-yard butterfly, an event the Illinois native really didn’t have expectations for. In the event Dalesandro was matched up against Ohio State’s Zhesi Li, a Chinese swimmer who was banned from the sport in 2013 for a positive drug test. Looze said Li seemed to have 40 lbs on the much smaller and shorter Dalesandro.

“I said, ‘You know, Gia, you’d really ruin her meet if you actually beat her,’ and she goes, ‘Oh that would be hilarious,’” Looze said.

Dalesandro took her coach’s remark to heart and swam an IU, conference, Big Ten meet and Boilermaker Aquatic Center record of 50.45 seconds.

“That hundred fly was so far and away on another level,” Looze said. “I mean, it was nice to see her defend her title in the two-fly and win four straight years — that’s incredible in and of itself — but watching that was unbelievable. I’m rarely surprised when I see a time.”

While Dalesandro still has the NCAA Championships ahead of her, she’s not as worried about the results, but simply swimming stress-free as her swim career comes to a close.

“This is going to sound really bad, but not putting stress on yourself and not really caring about the outcome has been so nice for me,” Dalesandro said.

After NCAAs Dalesandro has decided to take a health care recruiting job in Chicago. She will leave her stellar swim career behind her but not without a winning legacy.

“I will go and work and be a real-life person come May. I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to it or not, but it’ll definitely be different,” Dalesandro said.

As Dalesandro’s IU career winds down, Looze recognizes the strides she’s made during her time in Bloomington.

“Perseverance gets rewarded in the end,” Looze said. “And it was nice to see that happen to Gia,” Looze said.

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