After a less than desired finish earlier in the third day of competition at the NCAA Division II National Championships in Indianapolis last week, Wayne State junior Sasha Palazzo said getting off to a fast start in the late session was crucial.
“My plan in the evening was to get as much of a lead as possible in the first 50 and then hold (on late),” Palazzo said.
Palazzo sustained his early lead in the race to post a school record 52.24 time as he won the 100-yard breaststroke, becoming the men’s swim and dive program’s first individual National Champion since 2015 and the first WSU swimmer to win a title since 2013.
While he initially focused on a couple of blemishes during the event, Palazzo said he was happy that he was able to hang on to win the race.
“When I looked at the time, I was happy that I won,” Palazzo said. “I knew that I had given 100 percent, but I knew that I made a few mistakes, but a win is a win and I can’t really complain.”
Head coach Sean Peters said a conversation with Palazzo in January about adding training exercises to preserve his energy in the final 50 meters of races paid dividends at Nationals.
“We made it a frequent thing to address that part of his race, so if he had a lead going into the breaststroke I had confidence that he was going to hold (it) after that and it showed at Nationals,” Peters said.
The title put the finishing touches on a strong season for Palazzo, where his 52.26 time in the 100-yard breaststroke at the GLIAC Championship set new conference championship and Cleveland State pool records, along with breaking four pool records during the regular season.
Peters said narrow defeats in consecutive seasons at the GLIAC Tournament fueled Palazzo to perform at a high level this season.
“He worked out really hard in the weight room and in training, you could tell that there was a drive to him this year,” Peters said.
Palazzo said winning a title at the NCAA Championships is something he’s been waiting to accomplish.
“Winning a national title is something that I’ve wanted (because) it took me a long time to get here,” Palazzo said. “The key as coach says is ‘believing.’ Sometimes when we go through a lot of failures, we actually learn from those failures and try for those things to not repeat.”
Palazzo said one of the ways that he recovers after racing in multiple races at the GLIAC Tournament and NCAA Championships is to get away from the pool deck and take a mental break.
“I try to distract myself between races and I prefer not to stay on (the) pool deck because it just really gets me tired,” Palazzo said. “I like to stay settled in, watch some movies and not think about (swimming) and about 40 minutes before the race I start getting ready, but I don’t really think about it until fifteen minutes before.”
Both teams posted a top ten finish as the women’s team finished eighth, with the men’s team finishing fourth. Palazzo said the focus of the men’s team heading into the meet was to compete at a high level.
“This year, we did great to be fourth and to get the trophy is cool. I’ve never won a trophy team-wise with Wayne State, so this was the first time we got on the podium (and) took a picture at the end. It was a good feeling,” Palazzo said.
Matt Williams is sports editor of The South End. He can be reached at email@example.com. Cover photo by Michael Dubicki