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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, May 25, 2024

Sumiyoshi no stranger to national scene

When you've logged the kind of pool hours that senior Mika Sumiyoshi has, the laps have to start feeling monotonous. For much of the winter, the Christmas lights that adorn the tile inside the Hamilton Pool area might provide entertainment for a backstroker, but swimming facedown strokes requires more desperate measures. For Sumiyoshi, and for many other swimmers, singing during practices has become a habit.

"I definitely try to keep a tune in my head," Sumiyoshi confessed, laughing. "But I [also] always try to focus on something in my stroke, to make it better. I pay attention to my stroke a lot when I'm swimming."

The more serious of these practice-time thoughts are certainly the most illustrative of how seriously the senior takes her sport. A captain, Academic All-American, school record holder in four events, four-time All-NESCAC and All-New England team member, four-year NCAA Championship qualifier, and two-time All-American, Sumiyoshi has only reached her current level of success because she has an extraordinary work ethic to match her extraordinary talent.

"Mika's just a committed, determined athlete," coach Nancy Bigelow said. "Obviously she has a great feel for the water and she's very talented, but you have to have that passion. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don't apply it..."

Sumiyoshi, who was born in Japan but grew up in Branford, Conn., has certainly applied herself to swimming throughout her four years in Brown and Blue. She currently owns school records in the 200 individual medley (IM) (2:07.99), 400 IM (4:30.58), 100 backstroke (1:01.59), and 200 backstroke (2:08.85). Sumiyoshi is also ranked among the top three Jumbos all- time in the 500 free, 1000 free, and 200 breaststroke, and is in the top six in five other events (50 back, 200 free, 100 IM, 100 butterfly, and 200 butterfly).

According to Bigelow, Sumiyoshi has swum in 70 dual meet races, and won 67 of those. However, she has never lost by much. The time margins by which she has lost add up to less than one half of a second.

The most impressive aspect of Sumiyoshi's Tufts swimming career has been the incredible breadth of her success. Her versatility, best displayed in the individual medleys -- grueling events that involve swimming equal distances of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle -- has made her an invaluable team member.

"In a dual meet, she can swim absolutely any event, and that is rare," Bigelow said.

Sumiyoshi's outstanding collegiate campaign will culminate next week, when she travels to her fourth-consecutive NCAA Championship. According to Bigelow, who has coached at Tufts for 21 years, she has only seen about ten of her athletes manage such a feat.

At the three-day competition, which will be held March 11-13 at Principia College in Missouri, Sumiyoshi will swim in the 200 and 400 IM's as well as the 200 breaststroke. With her personal records in both the 200 IM and the 200 breaststroke coming just a week and a half ago at the NESCAC Championships, Sumiyoshi appears to be peaking at the perfect time, which will make her a major threat in Missouri.

"I definitely want to win if I can," Sumiyoshi said. "I don't know if that's possible, but that's basically my goal."

Sumiyoshi's most realistic shot at a national championship is in the IMs, where she is seeded third in the 400 and fourth in the 200. She swam both those events, along with the 200 backstroke, in her three previous NCAA appearances, but has never swum a breaststroke event at Nationals. After racing breaststroke more often this season than in the past, Sumiyoshi opted to make the post-season switch, and enters the 200 event seeded 21st.

"My backstroke hasn't been great this season, so I just decided to try breaststroke," Sumiyoshi said. "It's been going well for me."

Bigelow expects Sumiyoshi to do well at NCAA's, but is most concerned with seeing her athlete leave happy.

"I just want her to be pleased with her swims," Bigelow said. "I think she's already far exceeded what she ever thought she could do in the 200 IM. In the 400 [IM], she really wants to go under 4:30. I think no matter her place, if she could do that, she'd be really thrilled and happy."

Sumiyoshi does hope to improve upon her past performances, though. Last year, she was named All-American for a fourth place finish in the 400 IM, and also took ninth in the 200IM. This year's field is fast but will be relatively young, she said, which makes it more unpredictable. Bigelow agreed.

"There's a lot we don't know," she said. "But we do know Mika's going to do a great job, because she's a competitor. No matter what place she's in, she's going to go out and give 150 percent like she does every time. She wants to go out with a big smile on her face."

Sumiyoshi's familiarity with NCAA's and her previous success at the national level may put her at an advantage over some younger or less-experienced athletes next week.

"My freshman and even my sophomore years, I was really intimidated,'' Sumiyoshi said. "Now, I've gained a lot more confidence. I've learned to trust myself and my swimming a lot more. So much of swimming is mental that I think it's definitely going to affect my [results]."

Bigelow called her star "focused," and said that at the NESCAC meet last week, Williams coach Steve Kuster asked her how Sumiyoshi had trained differently this year.

"I told him two things: Mika was healthy this year [she suffers from severe asthma], and she didn't want to lose," Bigelow recalled. "There was really no difference in her training, but the not wanting to lose, along with the mental toughness, is what put her over the top."

While Sumiyoshi certainly made a splash from day one, Bigelow has watched qualities like her mental toughness develop just as much as her swimming abilities over the last four years. This final culmination of Sumiyoshi's talent, experience, and determination could make the difference for her at Nationals next week.

"I'd say Mika's grown into her swimming," Bigelow said. "She has matured a great deal as an athlete, and just finding that confidence in yourself...that's what distinguishes between someone being good or great."