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Limouze and Ries Named Athletes of the Year

For the Love of the Game

Eben Askins

Lacrosse is a Maryland institution. Just ask senior Lydia Ries. Growing up in Baltimore, making a commitment to a certain sport was never a choice. Lacrosse was the only game in town. Though Ries' numbers speak volumes about her competitive spirit, there is a quiet, humble, laid-back side that just wants to have fun.

"I don't really play for individual performance. I play to be on a team that has fun and wins - preferably. Whatever I can do to help that is rewarding in a sense. Sometimes people ask me how many goals I scored this game and I don't know. It's not because I don't care, because I definitely care. It's not something I keep track of," said the ever-modest tri-captain.

Ries began playing lacrosse at an early age. "I started playing lacrosse in fourth grade. We used to play in gym class and then in fourth grade you had to play two out of three seasons, so I started playing lacrosse."

But Ries' recent success has only come about over the last few years. Competing against many high-quality athletes, Ries was merely a small fish. Coming from such a talent-laden area like Baltimore so the senior competed against many quality athletes.

"I was average, I guess. In my senior year [of high school] I had a really good season and then [when I got to Oberlin] I didn't play until last year," said Ries.

Ries' on-field heroics can only be summed up in one word: poise. Ask the star senior how many goals she scored against Denison last year and she will simply nod her head no. "When I play I don't really remember specifics about games. I just go out and play and then at the end that's when I understand why we won or lost," said Ries.

That's what enabled Ries to keep her mental toughness at a competitive level throughout the year, scoring huge goals for the team at the most opportune moments. The senior carried most of the scoring load this year leading the Yeowomen in goals, assists, points, point per game and shots.

But her accomplishments don't end there. Ries was also second in points per game to Denison denizen Laura Peace. The Big Red foe recorded an impressive 6.38 points per game, while Ries rode in on her coattails with a 4.79.

But more than individual statistics, Ries praises what playing a competitive varsity sport has done to her life. "Playing lacrosse really evolves your lifestyle as a student athlete. Being an athlete here really brought us together, because sports are not so prioritized here," said Ries.

Specifically, Ries spoke of the inner dynamics of the OC squad. "I never noticed team dynamics in high school, but there was so much bonding when I went to Oberlin," said the ebullient tri-captain. "Because you give so much time you end up bonding with people, like on bus rides or away trips. Then it's reflected in our games because we are really close. [Then] we can see when someone's having a tough game or when someone's upset about something. I think the stronger a team has bonded the more together they can play."

Ries' unselfish attitude is a tone that was set early on with this tight group of women. The time this team spends together both on and off the field cannot be emphasized enough. The lockerroom banter, smug poster slogans and weekend barbecues all contribute to this close-knit unit. "I think our team really came together at the end and that was really rewarding," said Ries.

That being said, Lydia must be recognized for her achievements. "I feel honored because I have never been really good at any one thing. It's kinda nice to get attention in an area," said the senior. "It is nice to get individual attention, especially in a place like Oberlin where there is a lot of people are really good at a lot of things and I am not of them. I don't have outstanding academic performance and I'm really involved in things on campus like activities."

Ries' humble attitude set the tone for a season that was full of change. But the team chemistry was just too strong. The Yeowomen rolled through the NCAC, losing only to eventual champion Denison. The team also adjusted to their opponents' strengths, sometimes employing a stall to slow the game down.

Through it all, Lydia remains unfazed. Calmer even after the heartbreaking double-overtime loss in the conference tournament final to Denison, the senior silently demonstrates the focus and determination that any varsity athlete needs to consistently compete at their peak level.

Ries was just as modest as to the reason that her game was so improved from last year. "It just so happens that my individual performance was better this year than it was last year. [It wasn't about fun], I think I have just as much fun this year as last year," said a semi-serious Ries.

Doubling as a field hockey winger in the fall, Ries was adamant about the spring sport's superiority. "Field Hockey is lot more slow and you can't really possess the ball or control it 100 percent. I like being able to run, it's one of my strengths," said Ries. "Being able to sprint with the ball is usually rewarding and I can't do that as much in Field Hockey. There are also so many fouls and stoppages. I definitely like lacrosse more."

So what now for the back-to-back All Conference first teamer? Perhaps an entrepreneurial venture is in store for Ries. "I'm moving to Portland next spring and I was talking to my coach [Liz Graham] about starting a lacrosse league because it's not really there on the West Coast yet," said an enthusiastic Ries. "So I'm going to try to start a metro league or something and play on other pickup teams. Maggie's [senior and fellow lacrosse member Margaret McFalls] going out there too, so we're going to start that together. And hopefully it will spread to the West Coast."

It seems like Ries cannot get webbed sticks, plaid skirts, and end-to-end runs out of her mind. Even though the senior is about to finish her collegiate career making mad dashes that frustrate helpless goaltenders, there is no reason that the Baltimore native cannot do the same to middle-aged, out of shape hippies.

What else is there to say? "The fan support has been great. My friends have been really supportive of me and it's really nice have my friends come to our away games," said Lydia. "That makes me feel special that people go out of their way to come see me play because everyone has so much shit to do. It's really a nice gesture when people come."

No matter how far Ries is away from our beloved bubble, the sandy-haired, freckled Obie will always bleed red and white.

Strong, Somewhat Serious and Solo

Aaron Mucciolo

Coming into this season, the junior history and biology double major was already a two-time Division III All-American, having placed fifth and third in the 200m butterfly at the last two NCAA D-III National Championships. By season's end, he added a third All-American plaque to the wall in Philips, broke his own school record and accomplished what only two other men in Oberlin swimming and diving history had done-win a national title.

Limouze started focusing on the 200 fly his sophomore year in high school. "Distance is kinda my thing and not that many people swim distance-butterfly especially-in HS. It wasn't that I was particularly good, just that I was pretty good compared to a lot of the people I was racing against, and I was willing to work on it."

Years of work on the butterfly, which many feel is the most tasking stroke for any swimmer, has made it almost second nature to Limouze. "It's not even that hard anymore because I'm in shape for it," he said.

But when the competition moves from high school to college, and then into the national college scene, being pretty good won't cut it anymore. Limouze had proved for three years that he could hack it at the national level by automatically qualifying for the NCAA championships just over a month into each season.

This year, Limouze and coaches Dick Michaels and Clara Stemwedel caught a plane to Atlanta for the championship. Jetlag wasn't a concern. "There was plenty of time to relax," said Limouze. "The meet didn't start until Thursday and I left on Tuesday... I didn't even shave until Friday's [100m fly] so Thursday was a relaxing day."

Saturday morning came and found a rather unrelaxed Limouze, despite his previous success in the event. "I didn't swim last summer [to rest a shoulder injury] and it was the first summer I'd taken off ever," he said. "In terms of what I'm able to do in practice I was behind.

"The Miami [of Ohio Invitational] meet was almost as bad as it had been freshman year-which was good for freshman [year] but bad for now. Plus my 100 fly was worse than last year's and I think the [200] field was stronger than last year.

"It's always so nerve racking-you train so hard and it all comes down to just a couple of minutes of swimming and if you don't do well, you feel like you've just blown an entire season.

"It's a lot of waiting and a very short swim."

Needless to say, Limouze had a lot on his mind as he stepped onto the blocks. "It would have taken not a very bad swim from me to not come back top eight," he said.

Limouze defeated any fears, winning his preliminary heat by racing the third fastest time of his career. "It always turns out all right," said Limouze. "I just always worry it won't."

Following his success in the preliminary, thoughts quickly turned to his prospects for that evening's final. "When he qualified first," said head coach Dick Michaels, "we were sure that he had a shot for the title that night."

The short turnaround between races wasn't a factor for Limouze. "Some of my best meets have come after practices where I've done 6000m of hard training or more," he said. "If you're tired at night it's more mental than physical."

Neither figured into the race's outcome, although it might have looked that way to those watching. Limouze was fourth by the end of the first 50m, and was dead last by the time the half-way point came around.

"I expected a tough race and I expected that pretty much anyone there was a serious threat," said Limouze. "Everyone in the finals was having a good meet that year."

A come-from-behind victory is not unusual for Limouze. "That's how it always is," he laughed. "Once you're in the position where you can see everyone in the pool, then you can start to move up on each of them. Once I was in the water I knew I was in control of my race and that's basically all I can hope for."

Limouze's style has long gone against the psychological grain. His high school once had a sports' psychologist talk to the team. "He gave us some talk about how we're supposed to race ourselves and not our competition," said Limouze. "For me it's always about my competition."

The competition included a U.C. San Diego swimmer who outdueled him by two-tenths of a second for second place last year. "When I was still close and had energy left at the 100, that was basically it," said Limouze. "It wasn't even a decision-that's just how I go."

Limouze moved up on each swimmer until it was a three man race and "until the last five yards when I think I was unconscious and just swimming."

And afterwards? "I kept waiting for the rush-like 'oh my god I won'-and it never happened," said Limouze. "I was more impressed with the effect it seemed to have on everyone else there.

"It was just fun. It was a lot of fun being around people that night, it was fun parading out on the awards block-it was great. I've never seen coach Michaels as happy as he was then."

The season didn't start out so rosy, however. "I had some mental blocks, my shoulder problems aren't getting any better. I wasn't swimming that fast, wasn't training that well. My kick, which is the most important part of my race was off this year

"I just wanted it to be over about half way through."

What kept him in the pool was the other half of what makes a champion. "It's not like I can pick up and quit. I'm part of the team and the team's part of me. I would never even think about quitting."

Besides, "I feel like a slob when I'm not swimming, like now," he laughed.

As cliched as it might sound, team victories are far more important to Limouze than individual successes. "What made me more happy for my win at nationals was seeing everyone at nationals being so happy.

"I definitely think the team is what keeps me swimming more than anything personal. Personal victory is one thing-there's always someone better than you- but team victory is just different. I like watching other people drop times more than I like dropping my times."

While his teammates may be what kept him going, it was his coaches that kept him going in the right direction. "Coach Michaels is definitely the best coach I've had. He knows how to taper me better than any other coach I've ever had," said Limouze. "It's such a fine line-an extra day of rest or tapering can really throw you off.

"He's good at letting me know when I'm not training hard in fairly blunt terms," said Limouze. "[He] tells me I suck... but he does it in a very nice way."

Such constructive criticism can help in other ways-humor is a very effective tool to loosen up an otherwise stressed competitor. "Probably the best thing a coach has said to me is when Coach Michaels pulled me aside [before the final] and said 'Now make sure you don't fuck around and get ninth.' It was definitely good to hear that while I'm huddled over in fear and have acid all up in my stomach. I needed to hear that."

Assistant coach Clara Stemwedel (OC'99) was also a big help, if by doing nothing more than being a friend. As the lone Oberlin representative (sophomore Celeste Mercer's women's championship was held a week earlier), the trip can get lonely. It's good to have someone to pal around with "when you're stuck in a city you've never been in, in a hotel room you've never seen with nothing to do but watch Deuce Bigalow at $10 a pop," said Limouze.

Solitude is the unfortunate name of the game each spring for both Limouze and Mercer. No other Yeofish has qualified in Limouze's three years here, but it hasn't affected his performance, or his relations with his team.

"Sometimes I think about what it would be like to be on a team... where there are 17 other guys who are going to be [going to nationals]," said Limouze. "[But] I didn't come here for swimming. My friends are the best friends I think I could ask for and my college experience has been the best college experience I think I can ask for."

With one season of swimming left, what is there for Limouze after placing fifth, third, then first in consecutive years?

"I don't know," he laughed, "maybe I should go through the even numbers."

"I'd kinda like to have a second event," he said. "Maybe I'll start moving up in the 100 fly."

For now, the champ is taking some time off-even if it does affect his physique. "I have hopes that I can redeem myself even if I come back 300 pounds heavy and grossly out of shape," said Limouze. He'll be taking a six-week physics course in Boston ("a full year of Physics in six weeks-it's like a job") and will continue to rest his shoulder.

He probably deserves the break. For success at the highest level, for teamwork, even as an individual, and for being humble enough to not make an even slightly self-serving statement without a joke, John Limouze is our co-Athlete of the Year.

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Copyright © 2000, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 128, Number 23, May 26, 2000

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