MORGANTOWN — University swimmer Frankie McCutchan is getting used to being the fastest one around.
It was clear he had a knack for moving fast in a pool before his first meet was in the books — he opened his freshman campaign this winter by capturing the Hawks’ school record in the 500 freestyle.
Maybe that’s why it didn’t come as a surprise to University coach Joanna White when McCutchan captured the OVAC championship in the same event last week, finishing with a mark of 5:04.78 — good enough to reset his record.
“I personally am not that surprised by his performance. He has been working hard and swimming for a long time. He is an excellent athlete that works hard and loves to swim,” White said.
McCutchan has been applauded by his coaches for his ability to keep his cool during competition — with the best swimmers from 18 schools across two states lining up at the OVAC meet, that ability was as important as ever if he wanted a nab a title.
Swimming is a sport of seconds — all it takes is one slow stroke or one bad turn to put an athlete behind enough to make the difference between a top-three place or a middle-of-the-pack finish.
“When you get to a high level of swimming, one small mistake or miscalculation can make or break your time in your event,” White said. “He is very good at not getting overwhelmed by pressure. He has a very level head.”
For McCutchan, staying calm and collected is old hat — it’s just what he does. The secret to his skill isn’t a magical ability to avoid stress, but finding the correct process to deal with it.
“I have always worked well under pressure and been able to stay calm at swim meets. Everyone has their own way of coping with the stress of big meets,” he said. “Some people just don’t think about it — I like to think about the small details of my race and how I will execute.”
Once he’s calm and ready to tackle a race, there’s not much that his competition can do to outlast him. His coaches were wowed by his ability to keep a strong pace through his championship-winning race, which is viewed as one of the keys to excelling in distance swimming.
Of course, all swimmers who race distance train for such paces, but Frankie has managed to tackle the challenge with vigor and efficiency as a freshman competing against upperclassman with more experience and physical development.
“It takes a lot of yards every day to build up endurance. Some of my teammates will train both high school and club swimming in one day,” he said.