Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Leaving home to travel to college is difficult for any freshman. Leaving your home country and your family thousands of miles behind is infinitely more difficult.
For senior swimmer Lauren Lavigna, however, the distance from her home in Canada to the University of Missouri has been made easier by her teammates. She has also remained close to home by representing her country in competition in the Pan-Pacific Championships and Commonwealth Games.
"It has been a challenge at times to be so far away from home, but I knew that when I signed here," said Lavigna, whose home of Vancouver, British Columbia is over 2,000 miles from Columbia, Mo. "It has gotten easier each year that I have been here and the team has become a part of my family. We are all really close."
Lavigna had an instant impact on her team as a freshman in 2007-08. Named the team's Most Improved Swimmer, she continued her success each year, qualifying for the World Championships as a sophomore and setting school records in the 100 and 200 backstroke.
As a junior, she qualified for the NCAA national tournament and set two records at the national championships. While at the tournament she broke her personal record in the 200 back and set a school record as well.
Lavigna represented her home country of Canada in this summer's Commonwealth Games. Her stellar performance earned her an "A cut"-automatic qualification for the 2010-11 NCAA Tournament.
"Qualifying for NCAAs at that meet was great," Lavigna said. "Before the season even really starts, I have it, so it's great just to be able to train through some of the meets this season and just prepare for that one meet."
Along with her teammates, Lavigna traveled to New Delhi, India for the Commonwealth Games in early October.
"It was actually really amazing," Lavigna said. "It's almost like a stepping stone to the Olympics - it's a multi-sport event with an athlete village, so it's very similar to what it would be like at the actual Olympics. Representing Canada at this meet was one step closer to doing it at the Olympics for me, so it was very special."
Her coaches are excited about the opportunities the automatic qualification affords Lavigna.
"We are very excited for Lauren," assistant head coach Roric Fink said. "She is an amazing girl and to already have the NCAA 'A' qualifying time will allow her to really shoot for a great performance at NCAAs. This definitely puts her in line to become an NCAA All-American, which is a huge accomplishment."
Before her senior season, the swimming team had a transition in coaching staff, as Greg Rhodenbaugh, formerly an assistant at Arizona State, took over as coach.
"The process of switching coaching staff was a major change for all swimmers on the team," Lavigna said. "However, this challenge was taken with a positive attitude and an open mindset. The program is moving in the right direction and will build on its successes each year to come."
In her final season, Lavigna is ready to assume a leadership role.
"My leadership has grown each year I have been on the team," Lavigna said. "This year I am trying to be a great role model not only in the pool, but by making responsible decisions in my life in general. I am an extremely hard worker and try to lead by example."
After college, Lavigna plans to take off a year to focus solely on swimming and training for the 2012 Olympics. Until then, however, her focus is on her goals as a senior, and more importantly, her goals for the team overall.
"My goals for the season are to go personal best times in all events I compete in," Lavigna said. "Some of my favorite memories as a Tiger involve watching my teammates achieve success. It is so great to see others achieve their goals when you know they deserve it."