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Merch Madness
Courtesy:JMUSports.com Release:02/05/2009
Courtesy: JMUSports.com


By Maggie McConnell ‘09


With a big smile on her face, Samantha Holland settles in for what she admits is her first ever interview.


Eighteen year-old Samantha Holland is a freshman swimmer at James Madison University.  The path that has led her to Harrisonburg, Virginia is nothing shy of diverse.  After having lived in California, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington, the Holland family finally settled down just outside of Richmond in Midlothian when Samantha was entering sixth grade. 


        Samantha began swimming competitively when she was seven years old in summer leagues.  At the age of twelve she stepped her commitment up another level by joining a year-round team.  Surprisingly, Samantha did not swim for Midlothian High School but instead chose to swim for her local club team. 


        Samantha’s coach, Allison Keel, who graduated from the JMU program in 2007 and held three freestyle records at that time, realized her potential and encouraged her to consider Keel’s alma mater after graduating from High School in the summer of 2008.  After receiving offers for a position on the swim teams of UNC Wilmington, East Carolina, and JMU, Samantha finally decided to begin her academic and collegiate athletic career at JMU.  James Madison won her over with its picturesque campus, nice coaches, and friendly team. She smiled and said, “I love it. I love the school, everything about it.” 


        Now embarking on her second semester, Samantha feels that she has adjusted well to college.  When asked what she likes best about school, Samantha said she enjoys “always being around friends,” practice, and the comfort of her room which she shares with fellow teammate, Melissa Helock.  As a collegiate athlete Samantha recognized quickly that you must organize your time between practice, school and friends well, in order to be successful in all areas.   


        As a freshman, Samantha said that she has found it surprisingly easy to adjust to a new team, and to swimming at a collegiate level.  With ten freshmen on the roster this year, Samantha has been fortunate enough to have a foundational group of teammates that are also close friends.  Unable to detect it in any other form, the only display of team hierarchy is shown after Saturday morning practice when bagels are picked by team seniors first, and then in descending order according to year. 


Along with her teammates, Samantha has been warmly accepted by her coaches as well.  JMU women’s swimming head coach Samantha Smith said, “Sam is unique because she has the capability to laugh and work hard everyday. She brings lightness to the hardest training sessions or the most intense meet situations.  Sam swims the fastest when she is having fun.”


        And fast she has proven herself to be.  So far this year, Samantha is the fastest 200 and 400 individual medley swimmer on the team.  Coach Smith believes that she will place well in both of these events at this year’s Colonial Athletic Association Championship Meet.  Holland looks at the CAA Championships as slightly intimidating because, up until this point in her swimming career, the highest level of competition she has ever encountered was at the National Club Swimming Association Junior Nationals in 2008. 


With the combination of a “just get it done” attitude and great confidence, Samantha has a bright future ahead of her at James Madison University.  With the mindset that her swimming career will end when she graduates in 2012, Samantha will continue to embrace everyday she is a part of the JMU swimming and diving team with her infectious positive attitude and hard work. 



Note: Maggie McConnell is a senior practicum student in the JMU Sports Media Relations Office.  She is an English major with a minor in sports communications.

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