Race Time is Prime Time for ECU's Parker
Race Time is Prime Time for ECU's Parker
By Bethany Bradsher for Pirates' Chest
When Diane Parker was first recruited by the East Carolina swim team, the Pirate coaches expected her to be a strong competitor in the breaststroke. As it turned out, the program got much more than a solid one-stroke swimmer. They got a competitor who is so versatile that she holds ECU records in the open events of three strokes and in the 200 individual medley.
A junior, Parker has been concentrating on the butterfly and IM events lately, and her focus has paid off at meets like the Nike Cup, where she won the 200 IM and placed second in the 100 fly against teams from the ACC, SEC and Big East. Named the Conference USA Swimmer of the Year last season, she has been chosen as the conference's swimmer of the week three times this fall, and she has the fastest time in the conference for four different events.
"She has the whole package," said assistant coach Chris Feaster, who first recruited Parker and is the coach who works directly with her. "She doesn't have a weakness, whereas most swimmers have a weakness in one stroke or another. She is just really strong across the board."
Parker was one of four ECU swimmers chosen for a trip to the U.S. Open in Seattle in early December. The meet, which included swimmers from around the world, gave the swimmers a chance to compete in an intense Division I environment and try to make qualifying times for the NCAA championship meet. It was an eye-opening experience, Parker said.
In the first half of the season, Parker swam the 200 IM , the 200 fly and the 100 fly fast enough to make her "B" cuts in those events, which is a provisional qualification that could get a swimmer to nationals if enough other swimmers don't make the guaranteed "A" cut times. In order to make the "A" cuts for the March NCAA championships, she would need to swim the 200 IM less than two seconds faster and the 100 fly less than one second faster. It's a scenario that is possible for a swimmer who does her best when the pressure is the greatest, Feaster said.
"Some of her best swims come when there's some drama going on around the pool deck, whether they're holding the start for a long time or she just feels really tight and she's really nervous," Feaster said. "When she hits the water, though, it's get up and go. She's like a thoroughbred. She just likes to race. The competition really takes her to the next level."
"Racing is probably the main reason why I swim," she said. "It keeps you in great shape, but racing, and being on relays with everybody is a lot of fun."
Besides her individual events, Parker also participates in a number of relays for the Pirates, and she is on relay teams that hold the ECU record in the 400 and 800 freestyle relays and 200 and 400 medley relays.
Parker grew up in Maryland, where she started swimming in summer leagues at age six and committed to year-round competition in the sixth grade. She also played soccer and gymnastics and ran cross-country, but in high school her swimming coaches urged her to specialize. She knew she wanted to swim for a Division I program, but decided to take a year off after high school graduation and attend community college in Atlanta, where her mother had moved.
In Atlanta, she also trained with the highly-regarded Swim Atlanta club team. Feaster saw her swim there and invited her to visit East Carolina. And even though she was also being courted by programs like Texas A&M and Maryland, Parker decided her best course was to become a Pirate.
"Everyone was really nice," she said. "I liked the area, and the pool and the coaches were also a top reason why I came here."
Even though she competed in the breaststroke her freshman and sophomore years, Parker's emphasis has evolved over her years in Greenville. Chosen as the C-USA outstanding freshman during her first season, she was the conference champion in the 200 IM and the 100 breaststroke that year, but as a sophomore she began to fine-tune her stroke in the butterfly. Now the fly, considered the most strenuous stroke, is Parker's favorite.
"Mainly I was doing breaststroke all the time," Parker said of her pre-ECU days. "I like the change, actually. I like being able to do different things. Maybe next year it'll be something else."
With a month between meets in late December and early January, Parker's goal was to work toward her NCAA qualifying times, especially when the team takes a winter training trip to Jupiter, Fla. In Florida, the team trains in a 50-meter pool, which is the same size used in the top Division I competitions. ECU's pool is only 25 yards long, so Parker is accustomed to swimming a race with shorter splits and more turns.
"She has the (qualifying) times in yards, but when you convert them to meters, she doesn't quite have them," Feaster said. "Diane has really great walls. She's really strong off of all her turns. Take those turns out of it, and double the distance, and all of a sudden your event kind of changes."
With more individual accolades than anyone else on the ECU swim team, Parker is setting a formidable pace, said head coach Rick Kobe, and she is the best candidate in a while to make it to nationals. The last Pirate swimmer who competed in the NCAAs was Meredith Bridgers, a breaststroker who qualified in 1990 and 1991.
"She's a tremendous all-around swimmer," Kobe said. "The only goal we have left for her is to make it to nationals. She's got a great shot."
Reprinted with permission from Pirates' Chest, December 2003