Freshman quickly acclimates to college swim

By Angelle Cortes, Staff Writer

Freshman Athena Salafatinos has been swimming competitively ever since she was five years old. And, all her hard work paid off her senior year of high school when her swim team won the state finals, helping to earn her a spot on Illinois’ swim and dive team.

Salafatinos started off swimming at a summer league when she was 4 years old, because her parents wanted her to learn how to swim. Her parents soon realized she was pretty good at swimming and decided to put her in a club team called The Mavericks the following year.

During her time swimming in the club, and throughout high school, Athena began to think about swimming in college.

“I just got to the point where I realized that I could do it in college,” Salafatinos said.

Upon arriving at Illinois, Salafatinos did not come alone. She had fellow freshman swimmer Divya Kale at her side.

“I love it. I love Divya; she’s a really close friend of mine,” Salafatinos said. “I’ve known (her) since actually elementary school; we went to the same elementary school together.”

Salafatinos and Kale weren’t on the same club team together but started swimming alongside one another in high school.

Having a friend on the team before beginning her freshman year helped Salafatinos transition smoothly from high school to college. But as seniors at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois, both Salafatinos and Kale helped their high school win its first-ever state title in the school’s history for the girl’s swim team.

Athena chose Illinois because of the positive team atmosphere and how supportive the women were. But now as an Illini, Salafatinos wants to continue to grow and improve.

“I want to see how fast I can go,” Salafatinos said.

Salafatinos competes in the 100- and 200-yard backstrokes and sometimes the 100-yard butterfly and various relays. But, her favorite is the 50-yard backstroke she gets to swim in a relay along with the 200-yard backstroke.

“It’s really fun to compete in a relay and have your whole team with you,” Salafatinos said.

Illinois head swim and dive coach Sue Novitsky said that Salafatinos has been doing well during her first year with Illinois.

“The Michigan State dual meet she won a lifetime best,” Novitsky said. “At the house of champions meet in November she won another personal best.”

Salafatinos has also earned herself a spot on the Illinois All-Time top-10 list for the 200-yard backstroke.

As of right now, Salafatinos is undeclared on her major, but she’s looking into either psychology or advertising.

“I want to work somewhere that is super busy, I get to travel and I get to work in cities,” Salafatinos said.

If Athena were to be in a different sport other than swimming it would be volleyball. Standing at 5’11, her height gives her an advantage.

“Because I’m tall, I feel like volleyball would be very fun,” Salafatinos said.

Salafatinos played beach volleyball for a couple of years prior to college but had to quit due for swimming.

Outside of the pool and being a student, Salafatinos hangs out with her friends and other Illini on the team in addition to her family. While she may not be in a club yet, she’s looking into joining one.

Novitsky anticipates Salafatinos being able to qualify for the NCAAs and USA National swimming meets.

“There’s a lot of things we can keep working on with her,” Novitsky said. “Not just in the pool but also in the weight room improving her strength and keep educating her on the sport.”

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