By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
As a distance swimmer, Brittney Walters has gone miles and miles in the pool.
All those miles are taking her on another long-distance journey as the Northridge High School senior has signed a national letter of intent to continue her education and athletic careers at the University of Buffalo in Buffalo, New York.
“One of the assistant coaches at Buffalo, Will Bernhardt, used to be with Irish Aquatics Swim Club and he has been tracking my progress,” Walters said. “He was interested so I decided to take a visit.”
Walters was impressed with what she saw from her future teammates.
“You could tell the girls believed in themselves, the school and the program,” she added. “They were not just telling me what I wanted to hear in an effort to get me to come to school there.”
Northridge coach Joe Keller is also impressed with the Buffalo program.
“I’ve known Will for a long time,” he said. “He was interested in recruiting Brittney. Buffalo has a good program. They have a lot of good distance swimmers. It will be a good fit for Brittney.”
The Buffalo Bulls are a member of the Mid-American Conference.
Indiana, Purdue and Kentucky were among the other programs Walters looked at.
“It’s going to be an honor to swim at the NCAA Division I level. I hope I can live up to that,” she said. “I like the MAC. The Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference are really huge. My feeling was I would be more comfortable in the MAC.”
“One of the Purdue assistants that had been recruiting her e-mailed after her decision saying he was happy for her but they still wanted her at Purdue,” Keller said. “But it’s hard to get better than the full-ride scholarship Buffalo offered her.”
Walters recently won the 500-yard freestyle at the IHSAA state championships. She was a sectional champion in the 500 (5:08.79). She qualified eighth at the state preliminaries (4:49.53) before winning the title (4:53.49).
“The Buffalo coaches were really excited about the state title,” she said.
Walters is the first Northridge girl to win an individual state championship and she was the only swimming champion at this year’s state finals not from Carmel, Penn or Zionsville. Sarah Bacon of Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter was the diving champion.
Andy Bishop has been the head coach at Buffalo since 2007. He is a three-time MAC Coach of the Year and in 2011 the Buffalo men’s team won the MAC championship for the first time ever.
“Brittney may not be the most athletically talented swimmer, but you are never going to find a harder worker,” Keller said.
Keller pointed to two factors — the transfer of Brittani Grove from NorthWood and a strong senior boys class at Northridge — that helped Walters achieve success during her senior season.
“Brittney (Walters) was the lone senior on the girls team until Brittani (Grove) transferred plus we have one of the strongest senior classes on the boys team we’ve ever had at Northridge,” Keller said. “Those factors really pushed and challenged her.
“One of her best qualities is her ability to stay centered.”
Walters isn’t sure yet what events she might compete in at Buffalo.
“It could be distance. It could be the 200 butterfly or maybe even the 400 individual medley,” she said.
Keller feels Walters has a bright future in the sport.
“She is both physically and mentally tough,” he said. “She has all the tools in place and available. We prepared her well at Northridge. She will get a lot stronger in college. We don’t do a lot of weight training here like she will probably do in college. We do a lot of body weight training. Brittney may not be a big as some other swimmers, but her strength to weight ratio is right there.
“I would not be surprise to see her go 1:46 (200 free) or 4:46 (500) some day.”
She has an ambitious long-term goal.
“I would like to make the Olympic Trials some day,” she said.
Walters went from placing fourth in the sectional in the 500 free (5:19.67) as a freshman, to a sixth-place finish at state (4:58.31) as a junior, to the state championship as a senior.
“Looking at the progress she made in her four years at Northridge. She has went from the bottom to the top,” Keller said. “Based on that the Olympic Trials are a real possibility.”
Brittney is the daughter of Joanne Walters. She plans to study pharmacy at Buffalo.
“Mom has always been my biggest supporter,” Walters said. “When money was tight she always found ways for me to meet my swimming goals.”