April 9, 2013

NCAA Division III Week Spotlight on Wyatt Ubellacker

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - MIT's Wyatt Ubellacker has had quite the impressive year: the senior helped lead the men's swimming and diving team to its fifth consecutive New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) title, while also being named the NEWMAC Swimmer of the Year for his five first place finishes, three of which were individual, and four conference records.

A month later, he was named the Swimmer of the Year at the 2013 NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships after claiming two national titles and a national record, leading the Engineers to a third place finish, the highest they have ever placed in the team rankings before. And this past summer, he became the first MIT swimmer to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials, finishing in 21st place in the 50-meter freestyle. All while maintaining a 4.9 GPA.

As MIT, the NEWMAC and its member institutions participate in the second annual Division III Week, which concludes on Sunday, April 14, Ubellacker reflected upon his decision to attend MIT and be a Division III student-athlete.

He said it was an easy choice when it came to picking a college. "I knew I wanted to swim in college and I knew MIT had a really good academic reputation," he said. "It wasn't that tough of a decision, to be honest. I applied early and got in early and once I got in, I was dead set."

When asked what it means to be a Division III student-athlete, Ubellacker said that it "gives me a good break to unwind from school work, and have something to focus on besides problem sets. I find that I am much more productive after working out, and I can't imagine my college experience without athletics and swimming."

For Ubellacker, who will be graduating in June with a degree in mechanical engineering and starting a job with robotics company Vecna the following month, his favorite memory was watching the underclassmen learn and grow. "When I came in as a freshman, I really looked up to the seniors and, every year, it is great to see how enthused each class are and how much talent they have. It is great to see what I feel is a reflection of what I was like as a freshman."

Acting head coach Samantha Pitter, who has been working with the team for the past five years, said that she was blown away by Ubellacker's performance at NCAAs, attributing his achievements to a new-found confidence. "I think all of his hard work over the four years finally paid off," she said. "Trials gave Wyatt a taste of that next level and when he saw it and was part of it, he wanted more. It gave him the drive to do well this year and that experience is really what is behind all of his success."

At last year's NCAA Championships, Ubellacker walked away with two thirds and one seventh place finish. When asked if he had trained differently to achieve the level of success this year, he said a number of factors had been changed.

"Starting last summer, I did less heavy lifting and focused more on reps than weight," he said. "In the water, we worked more on technique, starts and turns and underwaters. I went in every morning to work on that. It is hard to tell what really made the biggest difference. I feel like everything contributed a little and added up."

Pitter said that she had changed practices for everyone this season, not just Ubellacker. "We tried something different for Olympic Trials that really seemed to work so we brought it to the season," she said. "We changed the cycles of training and did more aerobic-based stuff, which gave him endurance for the fly which was missing before."

Going into NCAAs this year, the Georgetown, Ky. native had one simple goal: to get best times in all of his events, which he achieved. Being the national champion in two of his events was just icing on top of the cake.

"I definitely thought I had a good chance of winning, but I just wanted to focus on my events," he said.

Pitter said that her first goal was for the team to get third. "My agenda from day one was to take down the top teams," she said. "My goals for Wyatt individually were to get best times, which he did. I knew it was possible that he could win ... I knew as soon as I saw his morning swim in the 50 free that no one was going to be able to touch him ... it was pretty clear he was the man to beat in the pool."

In the 50 free on the first day of competition at NCAAs, Ubellacker was seeded third with his time of 20.01 from NEWMACs. In the preliminary session that morning, he raced to a 19.51, breaking the 20 second mark for the first time in his career, placing him in first going into finals. That evening, he held on to his first place seeding with a time of 19.81.

The next day, Ubellacker moved up from seventh to first in prelims of the 100-yard butterfly with his time of 47.34, breaking the 13-year-old national record of 47.43. At finals, he won his second national title after touching first in 47.41. On the final day, he touched second in the 100-yard freestyle in 44.01 after going 43.92 that morning. Throughout the week, Ubellacker was also part of the 200-yard medley relay that finished first and the 200-yard freestyle relay that placed second.

With the season officially over, Pitter said she was incredibly proud of all Ubellacker had accomplished throughout his time at MIT. "The biggest thing for me has been watching him grow, not only as a swimmer but as a student-athlete, and really become a leader for the team and someone for them to look up to," she said. "He has been a true backbone of this program for the past four years."

So what is next for Ubellacker? He isn't going to walk away from the pool and hang up his goggles just yet.

"I'm not ready to be done," he said. "I feel like I haven't reached my peak and I'm not quite ready to stop until I reach my full potential. So I'm going to keep training. I am going to compete in the World Championship Trials at the end of June (in Indianapolis) ... it kind of hit me all of a sudden at the end of the meet that, from now on, I'm going to be swimming by myself. Training with a team is a whole different experience. I'm really going to miss that."