Smith improves in second season

Kierra Smith holds the best 200-yard breaststroke time in the NCAAs.

Kierra Smith swims the 100-yard butterfly against Iowa State on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012,  at the University Aquatic Center.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Kierra Smith swims the 100-yard butterfly against Iowa State on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, at the University Aquatic Center.

David Nelson

Kierra Smith had exactly three hours to kill before the NCAA finals began. With nothing to do, she contemplated smashing a hotel chair through the television set.

To say Smith was dissatisfied with her 42nd-place finish in the NCAA 100-yard breaststroke preliminaries would be an understatement.

“I think I was so focused on results and not on the process that that probably hurt me a lot last year,” she said.

Smith, now a sophomore, has come a long way since March 22.

She currently holds the best 200-yard breaststroke time in the NCAA, the 11th-best time in the 100-yard breaststroke and the 12th-best time in the 200-yard individual medley.

She posted all of these marks in last month’s Minnesota Grand Prix.

“She went from being kind of a normal college student to being an elite student-athlete,” head coach Kelly Kremer said. “She’s focused on the things she wants to do and needs to do to compete at the highest level of our sport.”

Smith said she’s felt more like herself in the pool this year than she did last year.

“This year, even in training, I just have a higher confidence level,” she said. “I know what to expect now, whereas last year, I was … adjusting to being so far away from home.”

Smith’s hometown of Kelowna, British Columbia, is roughly 1,260 miles away from Minneapolis.

Gophers junior Kiera Janzen, one of Smith’s good friends and teammates, said she’s tried to make Smith feel as at home as possible.

“In the role as her ‘big sister’ on the team, [I’m] just making sure that she’s comfortable,” Janzen said. “I think she took a little time to come out of her shell freshman year.”

Now, Janzen said, Smith is much more outgoing in practice.

“You can tell now that she’s starting to get more comfortable around people,” Janzen said. “She’s got a lot to offer in and out of the pool, and [I’m] just making sure that she’s aware of that.”

In the pool, Smith swam to a new level this season. She credited her improved outside-the-pool preparation.

“I should have been eating better, and I should have been sleeping more [last year],” Smith said, “but I just thought that the things that I [was doing in the pool] were adding up.”

When things didn’t add up at the end of her freshman year, she said, she realized something needed to change. She upped her tenacity, and the coaching staff took notice.

“It really started last spring,” Kremer said. “She had a different demeanor, a different work ethic … a different level of professionalism.”

And now that better times have started appearing, winning has suddenly become an expectation.

“None of the results are going to come as a surprise now,” Kremer said. “The reality is we’re getting ready for meets that are bigger in March and in April for her.”

As far as the 2014 NCAA championships go, Smith said she feels better prepared this time around.

“It’s such a difficult meet to perform at,” Smith said. “This year, I feel like going into it, I’ll be a lot more ready for what’s coming.”

Her opponents had better be ready, too.