Ricky Berens: A fish in the water
Upon entering into the Lee and Joe Jamail Swim Center, one senses something different about the air in the building. Maybe it is the smell of chlorine and the humidity, or perhaps it is the mysterious substance in the air that has been a catalyst for the development of 22 Olympians and 21 gold medal-winning performances from the Texas men’s swimming and diving program.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise that head coach Eddie Reese is breeding a new batch of swimmers under the lights in the Texas Swimming Center. He is, after all, a two-time United States Men's Olympic Team head coach, and will again coach for the 2008 U.S. Olympic team. In fact, the prospect of swimming under Reese makes a pretty good recruiting statement for high school seniors. Just ask UT freshman Ricky Berens.
Though he may only be in his first semester of collegiate competition, Berens (Charlotte, N.C.) is swimming with the confidence of a veteran. In his very first tri-meet against California and Indiana, Berens won all three of his individual events and helped win two relay races. The next week, he was named CollegeSwimming.com’s National Swimmer of the Week.
Like many others, Berens started swimming at a very early age. However, for Berens, it wasn’t just splashing in the pool and floating on his back, but swimming on a summer team under the guidance of his mother.
“I started swimming around age three or four,” Berens said. “My mom got me started pretty early and was the coach of my summer league team because she swam in high school. I think I started swimming competitively on a year-round program at age nine, and from there, it just kept on going.”
Once he started seriously concentrating on swimming, it did not take long for him to show promise. Five years later at the age of 14, Berens set two national age group records in the 100 and 200 butterfly, both of which still currently stand.
Perhaps the greatest indications of Berens’ swimming aptitude are the 19 state records he set in North Carolina…or the 51 records he set on his club swimming team…or maybe the honor of being the 2006 Swimming World Magazine National High School Swimmer of the Year.
As the second child of John and Leslie Berens, Ricky is the epitome of the Berens family’s athletic talent -- his mother, Leslie, played volleyball for Miami (Ohio) University. His older sister, Jessica, swam at the U.S. Junior Olympic level and led her high school team to the 2003 4A State Championship team. His younger brother, Tim, is currently swimming for Ricky’s old club team.
When it came time for Ricky to choose schools, the prospect arose that he might swim at an out-of-state school.
“I was looking at a few schools out-of-state,” Berens added, “and I didn’t mind leaving North Carolina for the sake of swimming.”
Ultimately, Ricky chose The University of Texas, and like the UT fans who are pleased with his decision to come to the Forty Acres, Berens also is pleased with his choice.
“When I came here on my recruiting trip, I loved the team atmosphere,” Berens said. “The guys on the team were really close and the coaching staff was great. The coaches are always working with me, and I feel like I always improve in practice every day. I know that every time I get in the water, I can do better.”
Moreover, Berens has the opportunity to train with former Longhorn greats Ian Crocker, Brendan Hansen, and Aaron Peirsol.
“I enjoy training with them everyday because they bring another perspective to the sport. I look at them and see how all their practice has brought them success. They have taught me to keep working hard and to do my best.”
Even though he may be swimming in a deep pool of talent, it does not mean the learning stops for Berens. In fact, one of the most important lessons Berens has learned from Reese and assistant coach Kris Kubik is the importance of details.
“The coaches continually remind us that all the little things make up a race -- the turns, stroke technique, and so on -- and every small element comes together to make you a good swimmer.”
In addition to the little things that Berens is learning to emphasize, he has also been working on his mental mindset.
“I love to race and see how fast I can go against the competition. The pressure gets to me sometimes. Every now and then, I get nervous before a race and I let that get to me. Sometimes, not swimming as fast as you want to is really hard on you because you know you can go fast, but you don’t.”
Furthermore, Berens is also learning to deal with the same challenge all student-athletes face -- balancing schoolwork and practice.
“High school is definitely not as complicated as college. We have study hall for two hours a day, so that helps. It is hard to concentrate when you want to do really well in school and really well in swimming.”
Though he may still be undeclared in a major, it does not mean that Berens has no career plans in case the swimming thing doesn’t work out.
“I am trying to get into the business school and get a degree in accounting. My dad is an accountant and I would like to do what he does.”
School work and swimming aside, Berens has also managed to find some time to discover the city of Austin.
“I love the school spirit around Austin. Everywhere you go someone is wearing burnt orange and sporting Texas apparel; everybody around campus loves the athletic program. I like the campus and downtown. I love walking around, and I think Austin is a great city in which to just wander around.”
While he may look like an average student in every day clothes, don’t be fooled by Berens’ easy-going personality. The goals he wants to achieve in his swimming career are big and will require a great deal of hard work and resolve.
“This year, I want to see how fast I can go, see how I can high I can finish at NCAAs and see how close I can get to that top spot on the podium. The next four years I want to set records, win NCAAs and hopefully go on to the Olympics. After that, I just want to be the best.”
Looking at Ricky Berens, no one would know that he is just a freshman. But he is, and everything that he has achieved in his first semester is nothing. It is just the beginning…the beginning of the future -- a very bright future.