The leap from high school to college can be difficult for any young person; completely changing your day-to-day regiment isn’t exactly a walk in the park. It can be especially taxing on athletes, who somehow have to juggle schoolwork, team practices/events and their social lives all at once.
Now imagine participating in two sports, including one where the schedule is split between autumn and spring, with the other being in the winter. An entire school year of sports. That’s the reality for Kaitlyn Welch.
A member of the Elizabethtown Area High School Class of 2017, Welch is currently a member of the women’s swimming team at Lebanon Valley College, as well as the women’s tennis team. The college tennis season goes from September to October before resuming in March, while swimming lasts from November to February, so a large portion of her time is devoted to each sport.
“Over the summer, I really try to focus on both,” Welch said. “Since I go to Lebanon Valley College, which is so close to home, my swim coach allows me to practice with her summer team, so that is an easy way to keep me motivated to practice over the summer. Tennis is a little harder since I need to bring someone else with me. I usually try to get out twice a week with a high school friend or my boyfriend. Occasionally, a bunch of my college teammates will get together on a weekend to play. During the year, though, it is much harder to do both with my studies. I primarily focus on whichever one is currently in season. I may do the other occasionally but not consistently. It definitely puts me behind my teammates at the beginning of each season, but my coaches are really understanding and by the end of the season, I am always doing much better.”
The pool is where Welch has flourished during her first two years with the Dutchmen. She immediately carved out a role during her freshman season in the backstroke, where she set a new team record time of 1:03.10 in the 100-yard backstroke during the 2018 Middle Atlantic Conference Championships, good for 12th overall. Welch later eclipsed her own time during the preliminaries of the 2019 Championships, breaking 1:03.00 and reaching 1:02.98, eventually finishing 16th with a time of 1:03.69 in the finals.
“It feels really great,” she said. “I never held any personal records in high school. I got very close to a few but was never able to quite make it, so it was exciting to finally be able to break (one). I actually had my eye on that record since I started my freshman year. It was definitely faster than I had ever gone before, but it was close enough that I thought I might be able to break it at some point. At the MAC championship, my friends knew I was aiming for that time and really cheered me on. I feel like their support helped motivate me and get me excited to break the record, and it felt so good to have them all congratulate me afterward. It was great to be able to break it again this year and know that I hold a significant part of LVC history.”
Welch admitted to being nervous about fitting in going into her freshman season since she didn’t have as much time to prepare due to her tennis commitments, as well as feeling more pressure ahead of her sophomore year after breaking the backstroke record. But look down a typical LVC events sheet, and you’ll see her name all over, a testament to the coaching staff’s faith in her talents.
In addition to both the 100-yard and 200-yard backstrokes, Welch has swum in the 200-yard individual medley and the 50-yard freestyle, qualifying for the MAC Championships in each (the former in 2018, the latter in 2019). She’s also a staple on many of the women’s relay teams, chiefly the 400-yard medley relay. Welch has been a member of five separate conference championship qualifying teams across her first two years with the Dutchmen.
“There are so many amazing swimmers at the championship(s), and it is really cool to watch some of the best,” she said. “Most of the swimmers are very friendly and are just there to compete and have fun. Some of the people in your heat will actually wish you luck before the race and congratulate you afterward. Sportsmanship is really valued. In general, the meet is just so much fun. They play music, and there is a lot of energy and team bonding which is really great. It is actually my favorite event of the school year, just (because of) having fun with all of my teammates.”
Tennis is a bit of a different story. Welch hasn’t had the chance to see the court as often as she’s been in the water at LVC, not appearing in a match during her freshman year. She did win her lone singles match in her sophomore season, though she was on the losing end of two doubles matches. The Dutchmen saw two of their top players graduate this past spring, however, so Welch will get a shot to earn more opportunities when the 2019-20 season gets underway on Saturday, Sept. 14.
“This past season, I have learned some new grips and strokes that I was never taught much before or had not mastered,” she said. “A lot of it will just come down to putting in the practice to improve and become comfortable with the new things I have learned.”
With the daunting challenge of handling two sports on her plate, it’d be completely understandable if Welch’s grades in school weren’t as high as other students. Amazingly, she’s gone above and beyond in the classroom, being named to the MAC Academic Honor Roll in both her freshman and sophomore years. To be recognized, a student has to finish with a grade-point average of 3.20 or higher. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself.
“It can be pretty difficult to balance at times,” Welch said. “The main thing I have to remember is that my academics always come first. I am not going to become a professional athlete, so I just do sports because I enjoy them. Luckily, both my coaches understand that, and I can skip practices occasionally if I need to. Our swim coach will actually encourage us to skip practices if we are too stressed and have big exams coming up. In general, tennis is more time consuming because the matches are longer, and I cannot skip practices as easily. The spring season also goes until right before finals and there are more matches during the week instead of just on the weekends like swimming, so I have to miss class more often, which makes things a lot harder. I just have to make sure to always make it up and put my studies as my main priority. Sometimes it means skipping practice or not getting much sleep, but getting good grades is always the most important thing.”
Welch’s junior season is on the horizon, and she’s aiming to increase her efforts in both tennis and swimming. She plans on attempting to break her backstroke record for a third time, as well as competing in the butterfly, which was her main event during high school before she switched events due to issues with her shoulder. She hopes to continue to improve on the tennis court and potentially see more match time.
Above all else, Welch is focused on having fun and acting as a leader to the underclassmen at LVC. Despite all of her success with the Dutchmen though, she admits that she misses her time in Elizabethtown immensely, especially her fellow Bears.
“Because I am so close, I get to see my family fairly often, but a lot of my best friends from high school are very spread out, so I only see them during breaks, and even then it is often only for a week or two before they leave for internships and research,” Welch said. “This summer, for example, my best friends have internships in France, Boston and Philadelphia. (Another) just moved to Florida, so I only see them a few weeks out of the year. I miss seeing them every day in class, and I miss spending time with my high school and club teammates too. I have some really great memories from high school, and it is sad that I will never be in that atmosphere again. However, I also love my teams and friends at college, so it is just a different chapter of my life.”