If you followed Davidson sports around the past couple of years, you’ll know the name Elise Lankiewicz, who set the school’s record books ablaze throughout her four years. Now, in a couple more months, another one of Davidson’s great swimmers will hang up the goggles for a final time. Taylor Willenbring, from Fort Worth, Texas, goes into his senior campaign holding four different Wildcat records in the 50-meter freestyle, 100 breaststroke, and 400 freestyle and medley relays. The sprinter brought home some significant honors last season, as he was named Atlantic 10 Men’s Performer of the Week after a stellar meet against William and Mary in January. Only one month later at the conference meet, Willenbring captured bronze in the 50 free en route to breaking the school record for the event. His hard work from early morning practices to clutch swims in meets paid off, with Taylor being named a College Swimming Coaches Association of America Honorable Mention All-American for the 2016-17 season.
His success has also extended beyond the pool into the classroom, as Willenbring brought home a national academic award. His great work ethic earned him an honorable mention in the CSCAA Scholar All-American list. So far in his senior season, Willenbring has continued to impress. He kicked off the new year by scoring multiple top three finishes in a meet on September 30 against Queens here at Davidson. The Texas native took home second in the 50 freestyle and third in the 100. Going into the winter, Willenbring will try to “will” his squad to a solid finish in the A-10 conference meet coming up in mid-February, especially after a disappointing eighth place result a year ago. We got a chance to talk to the accomplished swimmer to share his thoughts about his time as a Wildcat.
What got you first interested in swimming as a child? Did you have a role model?
I started swimming in third grade just to have something to do during the summer. I quickly decided that it was the sport for me and what I wanted to pursue. There wasn’t really a singular role model, but I looked up to everyone that was faster than me to see how I could reach their level.
How have practices contributed to your outstanding success at Davidson? What was the hardest practice you had?
Practices are at the heart of performance in swimming. Without the aerobic training on a daily basis, you won’t have anything to work off of when the time comes to race. That being said, as a sprinter, I find any aerobic set we do to always be a tough one.
Do you have a pre-race routine? What is it?
Before races, I just try to stay warm and take in the surroundings, feeding off of the energy of the rest of the meet. When other people are swimming fast, it makes me swim fast too.
How have you been able to calm nerves and perform in big meets?
I try to take any stress before a race and turn it into excitement. I swim the best when I’m just having fun and enjoying the race. It helps seeing everybody else on the team be excited for you and other teammates.
What was your most memorable race?
My most memorable race was the first time that I really performed on a big stage with other people counting on me. During my sophomore year, I was leading off my first relay at our conference meet. As the first person to go, stepping on the block overlooking the quiet pool was definitely the most excited I’ve ever been for a race.
Who are the teammates who have influenced and helped you the most?
There aren’t any individual teammates who have influenced me more than others. The men’s team as a whole drives each other at every practice. If I had to train on my own, I wouldn’t be nearly as successful as I am with them.
Your swimming career is almost over. What will you remember most from your time in the pool?
Throughout my career I’ve always been working toward a goal at the end of the season. After I’m done, I’ll try to find something outside of the pool to channel that effort into. But the relationships and skills I’ve built while swimming will definitely stay with me.
The Cats next compete against George Mason from October 20 to 21 in Richmond, VA. Their next home contest will be against Georgetown on October 28.