Luci Plaxton couldn’t answer a simple question—What’s an All-American?—when she first left Canada for IUP.
Now, she can—without even moving her lips. A glance in the mirror will suffice.
The senior from Toronto finished second in the 100-yard freestyle at the NCAA Division II swimming meet to cap her collection of All-America certificates at fifteen, the second-highest total in school history—in any sport.
“I didn’t even know what an All-American was when I got here,” said Plaxton, who also placed sixth in the 50 free and seventh in the 100 backstroke at the NCAA meet in Indianapolis. “I just hoped to swim well and get an education.”
What she nearly got was a national championship. Plaxton finished second to Mariana de Oliveira of Drury (Mo.) in the 100 free by the onion skin-thin margin of .21 seconds, touching the wall in a school-record 50.79.
“I was upset right after, because it was my last race, my last nationals,” she said. “To come in second by so little, it hurt a little bit. But then I realized that second in the country’s pretty good. I can’t complain about that, I guess.”
Plaxton’s runner-up finish mirrors her standing on IUP’s all-time honor roll. Only swimmer Tawney Nardozza (1991-95) earned more All-America certificates (19). Consider it compelling evidence—along with her six Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference titles—that Plaxton invariably came up big in big races.
“She’s very confident in her ability,” said Emily Ryan, who took over as acting coach at midseason. “What takes away from a lot of other swimmers is their insecurities, especially when they get to the bigger-level meets, but Luci fits right in. In her head, that’s where she’s supposed to be. She’s so confident and so mentally tough. You can never count her out.”
Especially at nationals. Plaxton earned first-team All-America honors by finishing in the top eight on eleven occasions. She placed ninth through sixteenth and was recognized as an honorable mention All-American four times. And on three occasions Plaxton finished second in an event, falling just short of becoming IUP’s first national swimming champion since 1979, when Dan Deacon won the 200 backstroke. In two of those runner-up performances, she was touched out by the width of this page.
“It sucks to come in second by such a small margin, but in swimming that’s how it is,” said Plaxton, who will earn a communications media degree in August. “There’s always regrets that you didn’t win, but you’ve got to walk away happy. And I am, because I did leave it all in the pool. I gave it my best.”
Plaxton will continue her pool work even after her schoolwork is complete. She’ll keep swimming with an eye toward representing Canada at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
When Plaxton arrived at IUP, she couldn’t have dreamed of becoming an Olympian—or an All-American, for that matter. After all, the term was, well, foreign to her. But not only did the sprinter from Toronto ultimately learn the definition of All-American, she learned what it felt like to be one.
Fifteen times over.