After transatlantic transition, women’s swimmer making a splash

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Junior swimmer Patricia Aschan hails from Raisio, Finland. That’s about a 13-hour flight from Detroit, according to Google Maps. Her mother has made it to every Horizon League Championship.

She goes home twice a year, during the summer and Christmas, and it’s hard sometimes, but she said Oakland is like her second home. She’s used to being here, although not to being away. Nor will she be.

Aschan practices for an hour and a half nine times a week and lifts for a little less than an hour three times a week. She does this with the team, which she said is “a big part of her university life.”

Then she corrected herself, “The biggest part of being here.”

Two goals sit on her horizon: grades good enough to get into grad school and the Oakland 400 individual medley record.

“It was so close even last year,” Aschan said. “I was half a second off.”

She’s just not sure in what country she would attend grad school.

 

Beginning

One of the first things head men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach Pete Hovland does when an athlete is interested in the Oakland program is look at the numbers. Official meets keep official times online and numbers tend not to lie.

Aschan, who intends to major in psychology, made those sterile figures sing.

Next come emails, phone calls or Skype. He builds a relationship and checks to make sure the athlete is a good fit for the team.

She was. Her presence promptly took effect.

“Somebody like that even pushes some of the guys,” Hovland said. “It gives you that swag when you go to a meet and you know you have somebody of her caliber and you can put her in just about any event.”

Free, fly, backstroke, breaststroke. Aschan is suited for any one. She’ll show up, step up and do what is asked of her. Her quiet confidence rubs off through the ranks.

“It’s right there on a day-to-day basis,” Hovland said. “Every practice, you can just look over and who’s leading that lane? Who’s kicking everybody’s butt? Every weekend, I put her in the toughest events and she comes through in flying colors. Every time. She’s the best of the best in the Horizon League.”

The ability is expected. If Oakland swim and dive signs an international student to a scholarship, they’re going to be better than someone they could get from the U.S. And they’re going to make a splash.

“Right away,” Hovland said.

 

The List

Her athletic life may not best, but surely ably told in bullet points. Wherever she did anything notable, GoldenGrizzlies.com put a dot and a sentence.

In high school, two things are listed, namely that she reached the Finnish Championships four times and was a four-time junior national record holder for her age group.

During Aschan’s first year in college, 2013-14, when she won the 400 IM at the Horizon League Championship, the number of bullet points grows to four.

Her second year — the year she was the 2015 Horizon League Women’s Swimming and Diving Athlete of the Year and the 2015 Horizon League Championship Women’s Swimmer of the Meet (at which she won three individual events and swam on two league-champion relay teams) — the number balloons to eleven.

You might imagine what the list for her third year, this year, is going to look like.

Through the grind, though, she doesn’t think much about those bullet points on the website. This late in the season, her focus is on the next Horizon League Championship.

 

Trust

Senior swimmer Nikki Flynn likes training with Aschan because they push each other.

“She trains so hard,” Flynn said. “She enjoys it.”

Flynn witnessed Aschan’s entrance onto the team a little more than two years ago. At first, she didn’t really have her bearings, Flynn said. Not so much as a person, but with how to participate on a team.

“She’s now one of the biggest team players; she always wants to do what’s best for the team,” Flynn said. “And luckily, she does what’s best for the team. She wins.”

 

Change

Hovland said it took Aschan some time to become more involved because she had to make the transatlantic transition.

“There’s no security blanket for them,” he said. “It’s thousands of miles away.”

She had to adjust to more than just new friends, coaches and culture. European swimming is focused more on the individual rather than the team, Hovland said.

Eventually, she did adjust.

“It becomes easier for them to live in both worlds,” he said. “I think she’s done a very, very good job of that.”

Hovland is looking for her to become more of a vocal, visible leader.

“I think she has a lot to give,” he said. “Her maturity, and her vision, and her dedication.”

Next year is Aschan’s last. Hovland is already dreading her and others’ graduation. But he seems to know how to deal with that imminent void.

“Stop, smell the coffee, enjoy this year for what it is,” he said. “Don’t worry about next year. Because there’s always somebody.”

For the time being, Aschan is very much here, and Hovland is grateful for the opportunity to work with her. He said no matter what she does, she’ll do it well. Because that’s just who she is, that’s just her work ethic.

“We’d love to have a dozen of her,” he said.