Texas A&M senior Kyle Troskot‘s time in the NCAA is winding down. Never before has he been so acutely aware of that fact, and never before has it made such a prominent impact.
The 2013-2014 campaign has been a blockbuster one for Troskot, a native Canadian in his fourth season with the Aggies. For a swimmer whose best times have invariably come late in the season – and by a wide margin – Troskot has had a shockingly fast start to his senior season.
He most notably went 19.69 in the 50 free back in mid-November at the Art Adamson Invite. Unbelievably, over four NCAA seasons, that is Troskot’s fastest pre-Christmas swim by almost a full second (he was never faster than 20.9 in the fall of 2012 and went just 20.4 in the fall semester of 2011), not to mention only a hundredth of a second off a lifetime best.
Call it a hot streak, or getting on a roll early – whatever you call it, there’s been no thought of a senior slide for Troskot.
“It’s becoming more real to me that I’m getting to the end of my NCAA competition,” Troskot said. “I’m finally realizing it, and I’m just trying to have as much fun with it as I can.”
One major key to Troskot’s breakthrough has been the addition of assistant coach Ryan Mallam to the Aggie staff. Mallam is well-known for his prowess as a sprint coach. Before coming to College Station, Mallam coached Junior College National Record-holder Brad Tandy to become the second-fastest 50 freestyler in the nation in 2012 – second-fastest in all of college swimming, Division I of the NCAA included. Before that, Mallam was the head coach at Limestone College in Division II where he coached Goran Majlat to a national title in the 50.
“Ryan brings a lot of outside thinking to the program,” Troskot said. “I needed a new way of thinking about my swimming, and he’s really provided it.”
Troskot credited Mallam’s focus on involving the legs as a huge part of his sudden breakout, a sentiment Mallam said was a big part of his coaching philosophy.
“With sprinters, one of the most important things is getting them to understand that they use their whole body to move forward, not just the arms,” Mallam said.
Mallam is an very technique-conscious coach, perhaps a key to his constant success in the shortest of sprints, where technical flaws are amplified on a huge scale. In an event that routinely comes down to hundredths of a second, every tiny aspect of a swimmer’s stroke becomes crucial.
“I’ve always tried to figure out what the best in the world are doing, and then find drills to emphasize that,” Mallam said.
Troskot seems to have taken to the hyper-detailed analysis like, well, like a fish to water.
“Kyle’s been really receptive to new ideas and technique work,” Mallam said of Troskot’s big improvement curve in year 4. “He’s always been very strong and very athletic. This year has actually been about getting him to slow things down see how everything fits together.”
And Troskot hasn’t just been focusing on the details in the pool. He said a lot of his success could be attributed to an improved attention to out-of-pool details.
“I’ve been much more diligent in getting to bed, eating right, things like that,” Troskot said. “It’s been a whole bunch of things.”
One major impact has been the opening of Texas A&M’s Slocum Nutrition Center, a dining hall for athletes that was brand new in the fall of 2013. It allows athletes a venue for a warm, nutritious meal at nearly all hours of the day, letting hungry athletes like Troskot find food fast, without needing to go the route of fast food.
Head coach Jay Holmes said Troskot’s breakout is the result of hard work over an entire 4-year college career.
“I think it comes out of a lot of persistence on his part,” Holmes said. “Kyle’s put a lot of work in over the years.”
“When he first showed up, as a coaching staff we said ‘Here’s a big, strong kid, and he’s not afraid to work hard.’ He’s always been aggressive, which is great – you want an aggressive sprinter. We’ve worked with him a lot on technique and it’s really come together.”
Holmes also credited an improvement on starts as a big part of Troskot’s great season.
Troskot also said the Aggies have hit the 2013-2014 season with a cohesive attitude and some optimistic goals, creating an easier environment for him to swim fast in.
“There’s been a very positive attitude on the team this year,” Troskot said. “As a team, we’re shooting for a top 10 finish at NCAAs. We know that might be pretty tough to do, but I think, especially with our free relays, that we’ll be able to surprise some people this year.”
That kind of lofty goal-setting is a hallmark of what Troskot’s done this year, according to Coach Mallam.
“He’s got a lot of confidence in his abilities,” Mallam said of his top sprinter. “That’s not to say he’s got a big ego or anything, he’s never been like that. But he really believes in himself. I’ll throw goals out to him in practice or wherever and he just goes after them.”
“He’s swimming with confidence,” Holmes said. “He really expects to do something worthwhile everytime he swims.”
With now just a few months left in his NCAA career, Troskot is focused on enjoying the ride, especially as he continues to heat up in the pool.
“Whatever happens, I just want to put as many points on the table as I can,” Troskot said of his end-of-season goals. “I’m just having fun. I’m trying to think less about what’s going to happen and just enjoy my last bit of NCAA competition.”