Big Ten Senior Spotlight: Aliena Schmidtke of The Ohio State University

The Ohio State Buckeyes are one of the deepest and youngest teams in the entire Big 10, and they have an astonishing 14 freshmen on their roster this season. Despite how good and numerous their underclassmen are, this is not to say that they are without a leader, and senior Aliena Schmidtke out of Magdeburg, Germany is ready to lead the Buckeyes in their championship season charge in 2015.

Schmidtke did not always represent Ohio State, as she began her NCAA career as as a member of the New Mexico State Aggies in the 2011-12 season. As an Aggie, Schmidtke had a phenomenal freshman campaign, becoming only the second swimmer in school history to qualify for the NCAA Championships after her performance in the 200 free at the 2012 WAC Championships. At that conference meet, Schmidtke took top honors in the 200 free (1:46.38) while grabbing runner-up finishes in the 50 free (22.82) and the 100 free (49.28). Notably, all three of these swims established new school records.

On relay duties, she also provided legs on the school-record setting 400 free relay (3:23.63), 800 free relay (7:22.47), and 200 medley relay (1:41.48). The 400 free relay and the 200 medley relay grabbed runner-up honors while the 800 free relay finished 4th overall.

At the 2012 NCAA Championships, Schmidtke finished 56th place in the 200 free (1:48.99), 57th place in the 100 free (50.37), and 61st place in the 50 free (23.07).

Following her sterling performances her freshman year, Schmidtke transferred to Ohio State to embark upon her Big Ten career. As a sophomore, Schmidtke immediately factored into the Buckeyes’ relays at Big Tens, contributing legs to the team’s 800 yard free relay (7:11.33, 6th) and 200 yard free relay (1:30.18, 6th) while also taking 22nd in the 50 free (23.22) and 48th in the 200 free (1:51.34).

As a junior, Schmidtke had her best season yet as a Buckeye with two scoring performances on the individual level at the 2014 Big Ten Championships. Highlights include her 10th place finish in the 100 fly (53.04) and 14th place in the 100 free (49.78, 49.55 in prelims). She also contributed multiple legs on the Buckeyes’ relays including legs on the 200 medley relay (1:38.94, 6th), 800 free relay (7:05.33, 3rd),  200 free relay (1:29.97 5th), and the 400 free relay (3:17.18, 5th).

With her prior NCAA experience and a legion of underclassmen looking up to their seniors in their first conference meet, Ohio State’s Aliena Schmidtke may be saving her best for last in her NCAA career. She has already established herself as a reliable member of the relays, but it may be her individual events where she has the most upside. Do not be surprised if this German puts up some big swims in the morning to set herself up for multiple big heat swims this week.

Best Times (SCY/LCM):
50 Free: 22.82*/26.28
100 Free: 49.28*/56.43
200 Free: 1:46.38*/2:03.63
100 Fly: 53.01/59.59
200 IM: 2:22.63 (LCM)

*Denotes New Mexico State school record

School Major/Degree: Double majoring in Molecular Genetics and Biology
Favorite Event: 100 Butterfly
Favorite Hobby/Hidden Talent: Cooking
Favorite Movie: I honestly have a new favorite movie every year but when it comes to childhood movies, I love to
watch Free Willy over and over again.
Role Model Growing Up/ Person You’d Like to Meet: I would like to meet Usain Bolt, especially to watch him
Favorite Food/ Pre-Race Meal: Anything that my mom cooks is delicious and on meet days, I like to stick with

At what age did you become involved with swimming? How did you get into it?

I became involved with swimming at a very young age because my father coached at a local swim club. Both of my older brothers swam too, which led to me spending most of my time at the pool.

What is your favorite collegiate swimming memory and why?

My favorite collegiate swimming memory hands down is the two day dual meet against Michigan in 2014. It was a home meet, and the atmosphere was absolutely thrilling. A lot of people came to watch the meet already fired up because of the exciting and fun rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan, which fueled the energy throughout the meet. I remember being on the 400 Free relay, which was the last event: the pool was shaking because of all the cheering from the spectators and our teams. Never in my life had I experienced such a great team support! I absolutely loved it, and winning the meet made the experience even more unforgettable.

Like many other swimmers in the Big 10, you came to the United States from another country in order to pursue an NCAA career and higher education. Can you describe what the transition from Germany to New Mexico State during your freshman year was like, and also, what was the transition from the WAC to the Big Ten like following your joining of the Buckeyes?

The transition from Germany to New Mexico State was like a 180° turn. Every aspect I can think of was different: practices, swimming outside, the weather, school, food, the dorms, the desert and the language. It was quite challenging to find my way in a different country, and my English was still a bit rough when I initially arrived. Half of the time I was at loss for what I was supposed to do, whether it be at practice or in school. I ended up having a nice culture shock but everything got lot easier after a few months. Nevertheless, I used the language barrier excuse for quite a while – even at Ohio State – whenever the coaches asked me to do something *haha*.

Transitioning from the WAC to the Big Ten was a challenging but fun experience since I was striving for a better athletic and academic program. The Big Ten is a lot more competitive, and it required me to learn what it means to give your best day after day and to be able to race under any conditions, regardless of how you feel. I definitely made the right decision by transferring to Ohio State.

The Buckeyes are extremely deep when it comes to youth, with underclassmen comprising the majority of the team and also proving to be especially reliable when it comes to scoring points at meets. Can you speak a little bit about how having such a young team has impacted the Buckeyes both in training and in competition?

With underclassmen comprising the majority of the team, it requires younger girls to step up and it makes the atmosphere a lot more competitive, which is very important since we only have three seniors this year. Moreover, I think it is crucial to learn early on that you need to be held accountable when it comes to doing your job. It is a lot of fun to train and compete with younger girls, and it is great for the team dynamic.

What/who do you think has been the single most important catalyst to your swimming career?

There is definitely not just one single most important catalyst to my swimming career, but my parents have helped and supported me along the way and without them, I would not have had the opportunity to travel to a different country, swim at a high level in the NCAA and pursue a higher education at the same time. Coming to Ohio State has definitely had a major impact on my swimming career. My teammates and my coaches have not only stood by my side, but also taught me quite a few life lessons. The program’s culture of hard work and learning to be selfless and accountable for the team has made me the better swimmer and person that I am today.

Do you have any plans/commitments following the completion of your collegiate career?

I will finish my undergraduate degree in May 2016 and continue my training with the Buckeyes until the 2016 Olympic trials in Germany.

What should we look forward to from Ohio State as a whole at this year’s Big Ten Championships?

Everyone is excited to be hosting and it will be fun to have alumni and families on campus. I am eager for us to show how much we have progressed and to swim to our highest potentials. I think we have many girls that will surprise not only themselves, but other people as well. It is going to be competitive, and we will be ready to fight and put our hands on the wall first.

“Our honor defend we will fight to the end for OHIO” Go Bucks!

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About Varun Shivakumar

Varun Shivakumar hails from Hoffman Estates, IL and swam competitively for 16 years. He swam both backstroke events at Northwestern University, and ranks fifth in the school’s All-time performances list in the 200 yard backstroke. Representing NASA Wildcat Aquatics, he also competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha, NE …

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