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Continued effort leads to success for Payne

Junior Russ Payne made the NCAA Championships as a freshman.

Versatility, consistency, team loyalty and a newfound focus are just a few of the characteristics that make Russ Payne a vital asset to the men’s swimming and diving team.

Payne, a junior, joined Minnesota’s two seasons ago from Broomfield, Colo., and made a big impact off the blocks.

As a freshman he qualified for the NCAA Championships, a feat that assistant coach Bill Tramel said was a great accomplishment because it is the most difficult meet to qualify for and participate in.

During his sophomore year, Payne said he had a loss of focus, which served as a minor setback; however, he is now pushing himself even harder to attain his goal of once again qualifying for the NCAA Championships.

“I didn’t quite accomplish what I wanted to last year, but all that really did was serve to make me more focused and want it even more this year,” Payne said. “I’m finally seeing the results of what I’m doing in the pool every day at meets and it’s a great feeling.”

Tramel said he thinks Payne’s motivation level is higher than ever after the re-evaluation of last season. His new outlook has become one of the main reasons he is now the most consistent swimmers on team that has had great success this season.

Versatility is also one of Payne’s key characteristics according to Tramel. Because he is an individual medley swimmer, which incorporates the butterfly, backstroke, breastroke and freestyle, Payne can contribute in a lot of areas, including relays.

One of the things Payne attributes his success this season to is his increased involvement with the team.

“Just immersing myself in a team atmosphere really serves to help not only me but the team,” he said. “I feel like right now our atmosphere is the best it’s been in the three years since I’ve been here.”

Team loyalty is something Tramel said he thinks stands out about Payne as well. His commitment to the coaches and the things they do in practice is apparent in the way he interacts with teammates.

“He believes in the work that we’re doing and that it’s going to pay off in the end,” Tramel said. “He definitely tries to reinforce that with the younger guys when they come in.”

Although Payne is a great leader by example, he also said he looks up to the captains on the team.

“All three have their stuff together, and I really look up to what they’re doing,” Payne said. “I look at the drive they have both in and out of the pool, and I really respect that.”

With his focus and determination back in line, Payne would like to once again have an impressive showing during the championship portion of the season.

Although he has bigger goals than his freshman year, he said he feels stronger and is swimming faster than he ever has been. He said he hopes to make it to the finals at the Big Ten Championships and make an impact by scoring some points at the NCAA Championships.

Coach Dennis Dale said he has the same expectations for Payne and would like to see him reach the finals in all three of his events (200 IM, 400 IM and 200 backstroke) and qualify once again for the NCAA Championships.

“He was a welcome addition to the team when he came as a freshman,” Dale said, “and now that he rebounded this year back to the committed, focused Russ, it’s been great to have him back.”

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