URBANA — Reed Broaders wasn’t comfortable enough with her high school swimming times to commit to a college program after her junior season with the Uni High girls’ team ended last November.
The 2018 News-Gazette All-Area girls’ swimming and diving Athlete of the Year wanted to improve her results just a bit more.
Drop her times just enough to make Division I coaching staffs truly take notice of her.
Broaders’ opportunity, she thought, would be at the 2020 YMCA National Championships. The event’s cancellation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic ended that plan.
So Broaders needed a new avenue to better display her swimming potential.
To get the ball rolling on college recruitment between her junior and senior seasons with the Illineks.
She asked Champaign Heat club team coach Chris Freeburg if a personal time trial could be organized at the local YMCA pool. The answer was yes, and Uni High junior swimmer Sally Ma joined in.
“I was like, ‘You know what, I need to put my best foot forward because this is my future I’m talking about,’” Broaders said. “After (the trial) it was like, ‘I made it. This is what I’m going to use to get schools to notice me and be interested in me.’”
One of those institutions was California, to whom Broaders verbally committed on Wednesday. She announced her decision via Instagram on Friday night, once she finally received some Golden Bears merchandise that was stuck in transit.
The wrinkle to this decision: Broaders’ time trial was held the day before the YMCA’s pool was temporarily closed because of the pandemic.
“It’s really funny — we almost chose to do it on Monday, but we did it on Sunday,” Broaders said. “And if we would’ve done it on Monday, then I probably wouldn’t say I’m going to Berkeley right now, to be honest.”
But Broaders will call Berkeley home beginning in the 2021-22 school year. She’s rejoining forces with Ema Rajic, a four-time N-G All-Area girls’ swim and dive Athlete of the Year with the Illineks who will be a senior when Broaders is a college freshman.
“When I was talking with both of my future coaches they immediately referred me to Ema because they knew we had a lot in common with where we both came from,” Broaders said. “She was definitely a great asset.”
Broaders has appeared destined for a D-I athletic track since entering the high school swimming ranks. She placed 10th in state in the 100-yard butterfly and 12th in the 50 freestyle during her freshman season.
Broaders then wound up taking seventh and 11th, respectively, in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke during a sophomore state stay that also included swimming on two state-advancing relays. All of this and more led to her being crowned Athlete of the Year. Broaders improved those individual state placements to third and fifth as a junior.
“It means a lot, and I’m just so proud of myself for accomplishing this,” Broaders said. “I’ve put a lot of hard work in in the pool — countless numbers of swim hours, countless numbers of (hours) managing my time with school and swimming.”
Broaders didn’t fully believe she’d be a D-I swimmer until she was in eighth grade. A frustrating seventh-grade season that she described as her worst caused her to stop competing in volleyball and track and field, instead focusing entirely on her efforts in the pool.
She quickly experienced swimming growth. Not long afterward, Broaders attended Rajic’s college signing ceremony when Broaders was a freshman at Uni High.
“I don’t think I was thinking about college then,” Broaders said. “I was just trying to get faster at that point and keep my grades up.”
One item Broaders was sure of when she decided college swimming was a legitimate option was that she wanted to land at a university that would provide her fulfillment as both an athlete and student. Broaders said she plans to study bioengineering, biochemistry or neuroscience, the latter on a pre-med track.
Plenty of other elements surrounding Broaders’ choice aren’t quite so clear.
Her time trial was focused upon the 50 free and 100 butterfly events, but Broaders said Cal’s coaches indicated “anything is possible at this point” with regard to what races she’ll suit up for in college.
“Right now I’m trying to definitely expand my range of events — so maybe focusing on more like 200s,” Broaders said. “And definitely working on my 50 for sure — my 50 freestyle and my 100 free.”
Beyond Cal’s academics being “second to none” and the Golden Bears’ women’s swim and dive program being highly ranked nationally, Broaders said she was drawn to coach Teri McKeever’s squad by a past relationship with associate coach Dani Korman.
“Coach Dani was my camp counselor for four years straight,” said Broaders, referencing the annual Kenyon College Total Performance Swim Camp in Gambier, Ohio. “She worked in my lane. I trained under her and did really well at swim camp. I was like, ‘OK, I’ve worked with her. I know how we work together.’”
The last piece was seeing how well Rajic fared at Cal right off the bat.
Rajic qualified for the 100 breaststroke A final during her freshman season at the NCAA Championships and swam for a national-champion 400 medley relay and runner-up 200 medley relay at the same meet. Rajic also set the program’s 100 breaststroke school record and was part of a program-best 400 medley relay time as a college newcomer.
“She did amazing her first year and had the exact same training, same schooling, same everything I had for high school,” Broaders said. “With all that adding up, it just seemed like the right thing for me to do.”
Also uncertain for Broaders these days is her immediate future in swimming.
The 2020 IHSA girls’ swim and dive season officially began Aug. 10 and is scheduled to run through Oct. 24, but Uni High currently isn’t permitted to compete in any meets. Illineks assistant coach Dave Young said school officials “were concerned about us being indoors competing against other teams” amid the pandemic.
Broaders hasn’t fully stepped away from Uni High activities, as Ma already has in favor of working full-time with the Champaign Heat.
“I would love to swim high school, but I’m waiting for a couple of checkpoints to come back in before I can truly commit to that,” Broaders said. “I didn’t come in not wanting to do it, but with recent changes (to IHSA pandemic-related guidelines) hopefully we can get everything figured out.”
There is one additional aspect of Broaders’ college commitment that she hopes can serve as a benefit to those who enter the pool after her.
Broaders is a young Black woman in a predominantly white sport. This hasn’t skirted past her view.
“What I want to do is I want to show other African-American females and African-Americans as a whole that you can do this,” Broaders said. “I really, really do hope what I’ve done with this sport can inspire younger girls who are debating on doing swimming … (to try it) to see if you like it, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
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