DI Female Athlete of the Year: Becky Stoughton
Becky Stoughton set the record books ablaze in 2011-12.
The freshman from Peoria, Ill., holds five school records — in the 200, 500, 1,000, and 1,650 freestyles and the 400 individual medley — and reset each of those records numerous times. Her season culminated with a pair of top-five finishes and conference Freshman of the Year honors at the Big Ten championships and a ninth-place finish in the 1,650 free at the NCAA meet to earn honorable mention All-American accolades.
It was all a blur for Stoughton.
"Looking back on it, there are things that happened at the beginning of the year that seem like they just happened yesterday," she said. "It's weird to think about everything. I remember my first practice and being so nervous — and now everything's mapped out."
She wasted little time starting her assault on the record books. She set Iowa pool records in the Black and Gold intrasquad meet and posted a pool record in the 1,000 freestyle at Wisconsin on Oct. 20. She broke her first school record in the 400 individual medley against Michigan State on Oct. 29 and never looked back.
Head coach Marc Long said he never anticipated Stoughton would perform at such a high level so soon.
"It was quite remarkable, just the way she came in with a gutsy determination," he said. "She just loves to race."
That love for racing is something Long said is inspiring for the rest of the team. Stoughton was often asked to swim one race and then wait for the men to finish the same event; she would then be back in the water for the next women's race.
"The only question we would get was, 'What lane?,' " he said. "There was never a hesitation. That's an important quality that she has, and it's infectious with the rest of the team."
Stoughton said she struggled some with nerves at the NCAA meet and she didn't post the times she was accustomed to in her first two events. But she was able to change that in the 1,650 freestyle.
"The first couple days were tough mentally," assistant coach Nate Mundt said. "And to see her bounce back and do what she did in the mile and drop 11 seconds [on her time] on the last day — after having, in our minds, two substandard days — was outstanding. I don't think I've ever seen a swimmer, in any competition, do that."
Stoughton and her coaches said she still has room to improve. Her main focus will be on improving her overall strength and stamina. She surged out to an early lead in her races at the Big Ten championships but faded down the stretch.
But the Hawkeyes say they're confident in Stoughton's future and what she brings to the program.
She'll be joined next year by incoming freshman Olivia Kabacinski, a standout at Chesterton (Ind.) High, whose personal bests in the 50 and 100 freestyles would be school records at Iowa.
Stoughton's performance and Kabacinski's impending arrival mark a turning point for the program, Long said.
"There's a whole new world out there that we're just starting to compete in," he said.
Some might think Stoughton has set the bar high for someone who has three years left. But Long said she's not worried about that.
"She's just able to see now what else is out there," he said. "In a way, I think she's even more excited. I don't think she looks at it like she set the bar high — it's looked at like she's at a launching point for even more exciting things."
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