When Hannah Gouger began swimming on her own at just 2 years old, little did she know that she would eventually become a nationally ranked swimmer and a two-time qualifier for the Olympic Trials.
Gouger’s parents, both former swimmers at Virginia Tech, unsurprisingly chose swimming as one of Gouger's two sports that she participated in as a child, the other being soccer.
“I had dreams of being a good swimmer, but I honestly didn’t like it that much when I was younger,” Gouger said.
She remembers making pinky promises with her summer swim club coach, who said if she just got in the water, she could finish practice early.
“It was definitely a love-hate relationship," Gouger said. "I loved the competitive nature of the sport, but hated waking up so early in the summer and spending most of my time in the pool.”
Gouger’s interest in attending the University of Richmond stemmed from her sister, Meredith Gouger, who graduated from UR in 2015. Meredith was also a member of the swim team.
“I saw how much she transformed as a person while being a student-athlete here,” Hannah said.
Hannah has known Matt Barany, UR's head women's swimming and diving coach, since eighth grade because of her sister.
"Matt is goofy but also serious and extremely intelligent and that's why we work well together," Hannah said. "We have a level of trust that I think is special. He knows that I have the drive to be the best that I can be, so if I feel like I need something more in practice or feel like something is not working, he takes my opinion into consideration and we make adjustments."
Hannah is now on the brink of finishing her most successful season yet, accruing first-place accolades at the Atlantic-10 Conference Championships, qualifying for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships as well as the 2020 Summer Olympic Trials.
This season, Hannah's main goal was to qualify for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships.
Qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympic Trials was an added bonus.
Hannah qualified for NCAA Championships at the Tar Heel Last Chance Meet, held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, just three days before the NCAA released who had qualified for the championship meet.
The UNC meet was the weekend right after the Atlantic-10 Championships, where Hannah finished first in both the 100-yard and 200-yard backstroke, contributing to the team's fourth-place overall finish.
At UNC, she swam the 200-yard backstroke preliminary in the morning, finishing only .04 seconds off her personal best. Immediately after, Hannah realized she had a shot at qualifying for NCAAs, and remembers thinking, “Wow, I could actually do this.”
What made this moment even more special was the fact that Hannah's biggest competitor this year wasn’t anyone in the A-10 -- it was herself.
“This whole year I had a lot of self-doubt," she said. "I always questioned in the back of my head whether I would be able to go fast enough to qualify for NCAAs. I knew I was going to have to drop about two seconds from last season to qualify, which is a lot. So starting this season off I knew that there was definitely a lot of work that needed to be done, but I really doubted my abilities.”
Hannah said she remembered touching the wall during the final competition that evening and feeling waves of shock, relief and joy. She said she felt as if a weight had been removed from her shoulders in a rewarding way, because she had made a lot of sacrifices this year to dedicate her junior year season to qualifying for NCAAs.
Earlier this month, Hannah competed at the TYR Pro Series held in Richmond, where she made the cut for the 2020 Summer Olympic Trials.
In the summer after her junior year of high school, she had qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympic Trials, when the standard was about a second slower than it is now.
Before the Pro Series this year, Hannah and her coach had not discussed the possibility of qualifying for the Trials, so it was a pleasant surprise when she did.
Hannah said there had been a quick turnaround for this meet because it had been only a few weeks after NCAAs.
Hannah was tired after not being able to rest from the consecutive competitive weeks, she said. The Pro Series also takes place in a 50m pool, which is twice the length of collegiate meets.
In preliminary races that morning, Hannah could not see the clock as she touched the wall. But she quickly figured out that she had qualified for the Trials after hearing the joyous cheers from friends and family. Not only did she beat the Trials' qualifying time by .3 seconds, but she improved her own personal record for the 100-yard backstroke by .7 seconds.
For now, Hannah will continue to train throughout the summer as she prepares to swim at Stanford University for the USA Swimming Nationals in the last week of July, competing in the 100-yard and 200-yard backstroke.
Upon returning back to campus in the fall, Hannah will complete her last season of eligibility as a Richmond Spiders swimmer. She will also continue to train on campus for the 2020 Summer Olympic Trials, which will be held in Omaha, Nebraska, in June 2020.
“I couldn’t have done it without my coaches," Hannah said. "In the end, I had the best season of my swimming career this year, which makes next season something to really look forward to.”
Contact sports writer Grace Mittl at email@example.com