When Brookfield Central girls swimming coach William Twitchell talks about junior Gwen Gustafson, he compares her to a thoroughbred.
“We have an understanding,” Twitchell said. “Like maybe like a racehorse. I’ll get her to the starting line and she does the rest.”
‘Does the rest’ included earning the 2015 Swimmer of the Year as a sophomore while winning the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle and being a member of the 200 medley and 400 free relay at the Greater Metro Conference Championship.
When asked if it was a goal to win the GMC Swimmer of the Year, Gustafson had an interesting answer.
“No, I had no idea. I didn’t even think that was a thing,” she said. “It feels good, but obviously It (winning fourth straight title) was a whole team effort.”
Ironically, Gustafson came into the program with almost no fanfare according to Twitchell.
“I have a colleague who coaches with the swim club,” he recalled. “I heard the names of the best freshmen of the year she was coming in and her name wasn’t on it? She came in very quietly, talented, but not recognized. She went into being - not anonymous - but not at the top of the heap - to being best freshman in the community.
“She had a fantastic freshman year as a high school student and she continued that excellence back at the club. It was kind of a coming out party for her.”
Photos by Alan Herzberg, SportsPhotos LLC
The talented Gustafson gets excited when asked about her favorite sport and playing on her school team.
“I just love to race. I have always been so competitive,” she said. She enjoys swimming for the Lancers, “especially compared to club teams. This team is like sisters.”
This level of athlete knows the race result before they race. They will tell me I’m going to beat her. And there are times they will tell me I can’t beat her.”
- William Twitchell, BC swim coach
It was easy to see how Gwen got involved in swimming, as she lived in Arizona until she was 5 years old and had a pool in her backyard. She moved to Springfield, Illinois when she was 8 years old and started to swim competitively.
When they moved to Wisconsin it were her club teammates and friends who got her on the team.
“After 11 years of swimming you grow to love it,” she said. “I love to compete. You can stay in shape.”
Twitchell talks about Gustafson as a swimmer and a person.
“As a swimmer she’s very efficient and also very powerful,” he said. “You put the two together and she’s fast. She’s just plain fast. As a person, she is a bit of a puzzle for me still. I’ve worked with her a couple years now and she’s a tough nut to crack. I don’t know how to exactly communicate or motivate her.”
Gwen feels she can lead but defers that role to seniors
“This year with some of the freshmen I have tried to take them under my wing,” she said. “But we have excellent seniors on this team. They help organize everything, give speeches. Caitlin Locante (diver), Natalie Daniel and Emily Russell are our leaders.”
Twitchell has talked to Gwen about being a leader.
“We’ve had that conversation,” he said. “I’m pushing that leadership mantle onto her. She’s a bit reluctant. If you have the best athlete on the team demonstrating the behavior that we want, then the rest of the team will fall in line. She’s biding her time.
“In a different situation she could have been a captain this year, but she doesn’t want that right now, hoping that next year she will feel comfortable being a natural leader on this team. She is so unique, being an underclassman and being so much better. She just does her business and her training and that’s the way she speaks to the team.”
Twitchell raved about her skills in the pool.
“We talk about feel for the water,” he said. “She’s very efficient and has a high capability of the fast-twitch motion. She recently swam in a national level meet and took fourth in the 50 free. She is a heartbeat away from an Olympic trial cut. Now I have to stretch that sprinting to the middle distance and beyond. It’s a good challenge to have.”
Gustafson agreed with her coach about trying other things.
““The 50 free is my favorite,” she said. “It is so quick and you can give it a 1,000 percent. This year I want to branch out; do the 200 free, the 100 breast.”
Twitchell had a surprising answer when asked what he felt Gustafson needed to work on.
“Interesting enough, her confidence, belief in herself,” he said. “The 50 happened so quickly, she has no doubt within the race. I believe she is strong enough to do those (longer) races right now. She’s very confident about the 50.
She needs to build that confidence for those other races. The 50 is over in 23 seconds for her. The 100 free could be over in 50 seconds; not a long race. She just needs to stay focused for a little bit more.
“This level of athlete knows the race result before they race. They will tell me I’m going to beat her. And there are times they will tell me I can’t beat her. I think I have to work on the second situation. There are very few girls in the state of Wisconsin where we can say, you can’t beat her.”
Gwen also works on the mental part of her game.
“Recently I read this book on mindset,” she said. “I want to stay focused. Focus on what I need to do. I feel I can help the team more to get better, so we can push each other. I feel like we all play a part. So I feel a little extra pressure to perform my best so the team could do well.”
Gustafson, who wants to be recruited by Cornell University, also said her faith is important to her as she makes time to attend a church class from 6-7 a.m. and a bible class at night.
It's all part of who she is and what makes her successful - in and out of the pool.
QUESTIONS FOR GWEN GUFTSAFSON
- FAVORITE FOOD: Any kind of pasta.
- FAVORITE MUSIC/GROUP: Jason Derulo (pop).
- FAVORITE MOVIE: Romantic comedies; I cry a lot.
- FAVORITE TV SHOW: Reality cooking shows (Master Chef, Top Chef). I love to eat but I'm not a good cook.
- FAVORITE CLASS: Physical Education; like being athletic.
- FAVORITE PLACE YOU VISITED: Italy (Pasta was pretty good)
- WHAT DO YOU DO TO RELAX? Read or take a nap in the sun.
- FAVORITE SPORTS RIVALRY/ATHLETE: Brookfield East
- MOST MEMORABLE SPORTS MOMENT: Winning the 400 free relay against Brookfield East and that was the winning event.
- WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO IN THE FUTURE? Go to Cornell and become either a foot scientist or a dietician.