Pittsburgh, PA — A junior year of high school is important for any student-athlete and for Emma Brinton a third coaching change in six years with her club swimming team provided yet another adjustment period, with this one coming at a challenging time.
When it came time for her state meet that year, Duquesne swimming coach Dave Sheets was in attendance and though she laughs about it now, Brinton was pleased with her results in the event.
“My state meet in my junior year was nothing special in my opinion,” she said. “My times didn’t change, so it felt like just another adjustment period. In many people’s opinions your junior year is the most important year as a swimmer because that’s when your college colleges are going to be there to watch you swim. So to not have a great meet that year was a little tough.”
Still as Sheets looked on he saw something special and worked on trying to make her a Duquesne Duke.
“I watched her and I watched her stroke,” said Sheets. “When I came back I said ‘this Emma Brinton is one kid that we want to pursue’. I sent her a letter and we kind of opened the dialogue from there. I knew that she was going to be good and really her senior year I went and visited her over the summer and watched her practice and her approach. She really started to grow into becoming the swimmer that she is now. Her coach Pablo (Marmolejo) told me that her potential was what was going to make her special. I saw that potential her junior year of high school.”
The correspondence continued and ultimately Sheets was able to accomplish his goal, getting Brinton to join Duquesne with significantly encouraging results occurring throughout the season.
Brinton reflected on how her interest in Duquesne came to be, and did express thanks that Sheets saw potential “or something” as she continues her freshman year.
“Academics was where I first initially started looking at Duquesne and then once I started talking to Dave that there was more than just the academics that I wanted,” she said. “When I came on my trip here the team was really welcoming and everyone had their work ethic and it was the kind of team I wanted to be part of and I determined they were the best fit for me both athletically and through academics.”
As if having three coaches in six years was not enough of an adjustment, Brinton had to quickly adjust to college life where Sheets, yet another coach, has a system which he has found consistent success with.
What gave Brinton a leg up was having Pablo Marmolejo as her most recent club coach given his experience and background with swimming.
“He came from a college program and implemented a lot of those ideals into my club team,” she said. “My practice schedule really didn’t change much coming in here. We have the same morning and afternoon schedule, so it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been but the types of training definitely is different because we are trying specifically for the events.”
It can be tough for freshmen in any program to adjust and often times they come in with a full-speed ahead mentality. Brinton admitted that with the many coaching changes with her club team that it took about a year and catches up with you.
For Brinton, that has not been the case at Duquesne and her results thus far in the season certainly back up that statement.
“That’s just not the way that we train,” Sheets said regarding going full-speed at all times. “Now she’s kind of adapted and that there are times to work hard and times to focus on technique time to do aerobic stuff. Her learning curve has been fairly good.”
Already this season, Brinton has been named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week four times setting a school record with the conference tournament meet not coming until mid-February.
“It’s really encouraging and motivational that what we’re doing here is getting recognized,” said Brinton. “It reflects really well for our team as a whole that what Dave is doing for us and the incoming swimmers is really working. It looks really good for our incoming commits to know that what we’re doing here is not a joke.”
Sheets is a huge proponent of the “we over me” philosophy and already sees Brinton succeeding with this mentality, something he believes correlates to end results.
“What she’s doing in the water for our team is noticeable,” he said. “It’s not as much about what she does for our team but what she does for our relays. Emma is not the kind of person that will get up and say ‘look at me’. She’s not doing it for herself, she’s doing it for our program. I think that speaks more volumes than anything else she is doing. She’s bought into who we are and what we are. It’s about Duquesne swimming and diving. That’s one of the reasons why she is having success.”
For Sheets, any swimmer that first joins his program in August does not begin then, rather the beginning comes during official visits where the team’s vision is clearly stated.
“If that was something she did not want, she would not have been here,” Sheets explained. “I think she already had an indoctrination before she came here on campus in August.”
It was a hard adjustment at first for Brinton but as both her and her body became adjusted. Now stronger, Brinton is enjoying her journey with her teammates.
“It’s a very tight knit group and you definitely have your training group with you but you have everyone encouraging you whether their set is going well or not,” said Brinton. “They’re always telling me ‘good job’ and ‘keep it up’.”
Finding that edge
Where does Brinton get her competitive edge from? The answer is quite simple, her family. The competitiveness her family has could be displayed in something as simple as a game or even a simple task.
“In general I am just a very competitive person in the pool and outside of the pool,” Brinton said. “It could be anything and I really want to win. It’s become a problem in my family. I have a competitive mindset that helps a lot in the pool so getting up on the blocks I get extremely focused on what I’m going to do in that race trying to do my best every time.”
Sheets notes that this competitiveness has certainly extended to the pool as well.
“She’s definitely a hard worker and wants to make changes but there’s something about Emma when she gets up to race,” said Sheets. “I think that’s a special thing that not everybody has. She does not like to lose and likes to be competitive and I think that’s one of the reasons why she has been so successful. She works really hard and she’s always willing to try and push it to the next level in practice, sometimes we have to pull the reigns on that.”
On Duquesne’s athletics site, Brinton’s main strokes are listed as individual medley and backstroke.
Individual medley is something Brinton has had down pat but backstroke was not consistently implimented until her time with Marmolejo. Sheets mentioned that there were some variables that make Brinton’s backstroke a successful one.
“It was definitely an adjustment for me to get into backstroke and I think that was due to the training adjustments, the coaching changes and training for those events more often and regularly it definitely made myself more confident swimming them in races,” Brinton said.
Ultimately Brinton’s competitiveness comes from an enjoyment from swimming which drives her in several different ways on good days and bad.
“I love the sport as a whole, like my teammates in general and they make it a lot easier every day and we work hard in every practices,” said Brinton. “Most days it is really fun to come in and do that with your best friends swimming right next to you. Some days it’s a lot less fun but you have to get through the bad days to have the good ones.”