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Taming the Snake
Courtesy: Washington State Athletics
Release: 12/08/2000
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September 19, 2000

By Darren A. Fessenden, The Daily Evergreen

Swimming means a lot of running. At least it does if you're on the WSU Swim Team. After swimming 2.2 miles Sept 7 in the Snake River, members of the team ran for another 2.2 miles along the river. Without stopping.

The team survived the Snake River and U.S. Highway 194 through endurance, perserverance and all those other words you see next to a framed picture.

"It's a pretty colossal event, if you think about it," Aceto says about this Snake River experience.

And it all started with a van ride.

3 p.m. The team boards two vans outside Bohler Gym Addition. Coach Rocco Aceto takes the driver's seat in the front van and Assistant Coach Suzanne Yee drives the other van.

It is one of those perfect afternoons on the Palouse: Temperature in the mid-70s, a slight breeze in the air and not a cloud in the sky.

3:20 p.m. Aceto pulls off the zigzagging grade -- as much as he can pull off onto the shoulder. He wants his team to look at a fox in the brush.

You get a sense of community in this group, composed primarily of freshman and sophomores, as they giggle.

3:25 p.m. The vans approach the dropoff site.

The team gets its first glimpse of the water -- today. They were down here Sept. 5. Meanwhile, freshman Semah Zavareh takes center stage. After Aceto jokes about body-like ripples in the wake of a barge traveling the river, Zavareh chimes in.

"I hope to add to that collection after I pass out," Zavareh jokes.

She gets a warm but guarded laugh from her teammates -- who realize they will join this barge in the water very shortly.

3:35 p.m. The vans arrive. Aceto talks to team members about the heat factor, encouraging them to drink lots of water alongside the road during their run to avoid dehydration.

3:40 p.m. After a three-minute jaunt up a cliff, the team is ready to begin its descent into the water. They congregate and chant the WSU fight song -- something that the freshman are taking a crash course in learning.

Aceto gives the team two options for diving. They can jump off the high point, approximately seven meters, or the smaller point, approximately two meters. Thirteen bold swimmers choose the high point while the other three opt for the lower one.

3:43 p.m. After every jump, those in the water cheer on their river-bound teammates. When they are all in, Aceto has them gather together so everyone gets a fair start. The swimmers look like Mark Wahlberg in the last scene of "The Perfect Storm" -- all alone in a vast array of water.

3:58 p.m. Tuesday's swimming winner -- Jill Olson -- is the early leader. She is now in the front center of the pack after earlier swimming toward shore.

Aceto looks at his watch and declares Olson is on a school-record pace. During the three seasons of this training, the best times have been somewhere between 44 and 45 minutes.

Aceto says the swimmers in the back of the pack have about a 5 percent coefficient drag -- meaning they are working less than those in front of them. But Zavareh abandons that advantage by swimming way left of the pack.

4:05 p.m. Zavareh has moved into third place -- behind fellow freshman Katie Byrnes. Olson has more than a minute lead and seems to be extending it with each stroke.

4:18 p.m. Aceto is concerned about a man who wants to launch his boat. That task would be fine any other day except this one -- the swim ends at the boat launch.

4:23 p.m. Olson has a substantial lead and makes another run inland, while Aceto tells the man the situation and the man politely obliges. Aceto now can concentrate on watching the home stretch of the swim.

4:26 p.m. Olson swims through a patch of water where the sun is shining down only on her. She appears as if she is in her own world, highlighted while her teammates are shadowed.

4:27.15 p.m. While some records are made to be broken, few are shattered by one person and broken by four others.

Such is the case today. Olson finishes one full minute ahead of Byrnes, who beats Zavareh by fifteen seconds.

Freshman Rachel Dong and Sasha Taylor also break the 44-minute barrier. Aceto designates the next finisher -- Rachelle Carano -- as the one to beat in the run. She won the entire competition last time.

4:32 p.m. The final swimmers crawl, because of the slippery grade, out of the water. They put their shirts and shorts over their swimsuits and lace up their tennis shoes for the second half of the competition.

The man can now launch his boat. Aceto asks him what he thinks of the teams' performance and he answers, "pretty good."

4:38 p.m. At the water station, Dong is in the lead, followed closely by Carano. Zavareh is hanging in third place, once again. Olson has faded but she still remains in a respectable fourth place.

4:46 p.m. The quartet arrives at their destination. The top four spots remain the same, with substantial gaps between each of them.

"I'm a little tired but happy it's over," Carrano says. "The worst part is looking at the dock, and swimming at it and it's never closer."

Dong quickly agrees with Carrano's view that the swimming is worse. "Definitely the swimming is worse," Dong said. "Especially at the end, when you don't know how much longer you have to go."

4:49 p.m. Other teammates are now finishing up. Freshman Theresa Dunn finishes fifth overall, after being in ninth place after the swim.

Taylor is 18 seconds behind her. Byrnes finishes ninth.

4:57 p.m. The competition is over and the girls can now breathe a sigh of relief. Once they've done that a few times, they search for the water.

It's amazing how clear, plain, tasteless water can be such an attraction.

5:05 p.m. The team gathers back on the cliff and Aceto begins his pep talk. He tells them how impressed he is with their times -- especially in the heat.

He talks about how this training can prepare their minds for Pac-10 competition. If they can brave the Snake River, they can surely brave a lane assignment next to a world-class swimmer from another school.

The sophomores and the lone upperclassman -- senior Carrie Breed -- have heard this message before.

But it's fairly new for the freshman, and yet they seem to be the most responsive. Tatiana Maristany, one of the freshmen, offers words of encouragement to her tired and weary teammates. She discusses how she was not looking forward to this training, but in the end, she was glad she did it.

5:20 p.m. Everyone boards the vans and they talk about eating in less than an hour. The topic of homework never comes up.

5:50 p.m. As the vans approach Pullman, Bon Jovi's new hit, "It's My Life," blares through one van's speakers.

The chorus seems to epitomize this group.

"It's my life/It's now or never/I ain't going to live forever." Youth was served on this day as four of the top six finishers were freshman. They fully expect their time is now -- not two or three years from now.

And so they will enter the season next month with yet another experience under their belt. An experience with a river and a road amidst sweltering September heat. The fall will offer more experiences -- but none quite like this.

Washington State Cougars Athletics