With the Patriot League Swimming & Diving Championships getting underway this week, we caught up with Bison junior Chris Devlin, who is already one of the conference’s top swimmers.
Chris was the 2016 Patriot League Swimmer of the Meet — Bucknell’s first such honoree since 1993 — after winning the 200-yard backstroke and 400-yard individual medley. A year earlier, he won the 400 IM and was runner-up in the 200 back en route to PL Rookie of the Year honors. This year he enters the PL Championships with the league’s fastest time in the 200 back by nearly two full seconds.
The school record-holder in the 100 back, 200 back and 400 IM, Chris has also competed at some of the top national meets, including the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials and the 2015 Phillips 66 National Championships.
Chris is an economics major from Dresher, Pennsylvania.
BB: You grew up with two brothers playing a variety of different sports. How did you get into swimming?
CD: It started out as a summer club thing. I started swimming when I was seven. The coach there was a great guy, and he really got me excited about swimming. Our family got to know him very well, so I would say he was the catalyst for my swimming career.
BB: At what point did it become clear that swimming was your best sport?
CD: I didn’t really start swimming year-round until I was a junior in high school. I did a little bit in the winter with my club team and then swam in the summer, but the spring and fall was soccer season. At the end of my sophomore year in high school, the coach sat me down and said, “We have a big season coming up, we think we can be really good, and we want you to be a part of this. We really want you to contribute, not just be on the team.” So I quit soccer the spring before my junior year, and my swimming really took off from there. I started making certain cuts that I never thought I would make. I went to Junior Nationals, I went to California a couple of times. Then after my senior year I made Olympic Trials. So from when I started swimming year-round to when I made Olympic Trials, it all happened in about an 18-month period.
BB: What was the key? Was it simply more training? Refining your strokes?
CD: It was really just more time spent in the water. I never knew how much time you needed to put in to get good and see those improvements. I was always splitting sports, so focusing only on swimming made the difference. I got better technique-wise, I put more effort into outside-the-pool stuff like lifting and building my life around school and swimming. I put all my eggs in one basket, and it paid off for me.
BB: You had a chance to swim at Kinney Natatorium as a high schooler at the PIAA state championship meet and even won the state title in the 200 free as a senior. What was that experience like?
CD: I swam here my junior and senior year. I didn’t make states my sophomore year, and that’s one of the things that pushed me. I had committed to Bucknell in the fall of my senior year, so I knew the coaches and saw them when I was here. Some of my teammates now told me that they came to the meet just to watch the PA kids, which was really cool. I didn’t even know them yet, but it was cool that they wanted to come watch me. It was neat standing on the podium after I won the 200 free, knowing that this was about to become my pool.
BB: How did the recruiting process go?
CD: Dan [Schinnerer] identified me from the first day. Coaches are allowed to talk to recruits on July 1 after your junior year. I was working as a lifeguard, and when I got off my shift I saw I had a missed call. I called back and it was Dan, and we had a great conversation. I came here on a recruiting trip and really fell in love with it. Sometimes you just have that feeling when you see a school, and that’s what it was like for me. I could really picture myself at Bucknell. The team was great, the coaches were great, the school was great, and obviously the facilities are top-notch, so it all just kind of fit. I couldn’t be happier.
BB: You have had the chance to swim in both short-course and long-course competitions. Is there a difference in your training?
CD: I think there is a little more preparation for long course just because we don’t swim it all the time. Most people when they think of swimming, at least collegiately, it’s all short course. The rest of the world competes in meters, but we compete in yards. But I like long course. I have always tried to balance it out. Turns are such a big part of short course, whereas long course you have to swim more. They are just very different. So you almost have to treat it like a second season. When the college season ends, we switch the pool around and start preparing for the summer meets, which are all long course.
BB: Tell us about your experience at the Olympic Trials.
CD: It was unbelievable. For awhile I almost didn’t feel like I was at a meet. I was just watching this production happen. Then all of the sudden it was Monday and I had to swim. So got in the pool to warm up and really had to get myself re-focused. They have a ready room, then you come up the steps and the lights are down and you see the crowd and the cameras. It’s like I’m walking into an NFL football stadium. The whole experience was awesome. I was right on my best times, so even though everything was surreal, I feel like I performed well.
BB: Are you the type of person who gets star-struck?
CD: Not really. I like to keep to myself. I actually ran into Michael Phelps. I mean physically hit him during one of my warmups. He said, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll just move over lanes.” I just didn’t want to mess him up. Two of my friends from home go to California right now, so they introduced me to some of the Cal guys who went on to the Olympic team. So I had a chance to talk to Ryan Murphy and Jacob Pebley and Josh Prenot. And I ran into Nathan Adrian and got to say hi. It was cool to see those guys in a casual setting and then watch them in the Olympics this summer.
BB: Now that you are a junior, do you feel you have a leadership responsibility on the team.
CD: Every class has its own specific role. The sophomore class is closer in age to the freshmen, so the freshmen tend to go to them first because they were in that situation a year ago. The junior class is in a unique spot because we are in between the younger group and the formal leadership role that the seniors have. But our class has definitely tried to be on both sides of that. We try to be just as close to the freshmen and sophomores as the seniors. Whether it’s leading by example or being vocal and excited at the meets, we just want to bring the energy up. We’re in a very good spot to be that bridge. The dynamic of our team this year has been awesome. We are having a really good time being around each other and training with each other. That’s one of the reason why I committed here, because I saw how people look after each other and how much of a family it is.
BB: Has the backstroke always been your go-to events?
CD: It’s funny, I was more of a freestyler in high school. The 100 back was too short for me, so I did the 200 and 500 free because I was better at longer distances. After the state meet my senior year I went to another meet and had some success in the 200 back about two weeks later. I hit a personal best, so that was added to my resume of times that Dan saw when I came here. Then the first meet at Bucknell I got put in the 100 and 200 back. I wasn’t sure how well I would do, but I went like seven-tenths off my best time and about a second-and-a-half off the team record in the 200. I think I had my best time in the 100 back, and Dan was like, “Well I guess you’re a backstroker now.” I was fine with that, so I geared my training more toward the backstroke. I ended up breaking the team record later in my freshman year, and the 200 back has kind of been my signature event ever since.
BB: Bucknell men’s and women’s swimming has had great success in the backstroke events through the years, including most recently Emma Levendoski going 8-for-8 in the 100 and 200 backstroke in her career. Some folks around the league have started referring to Bucknell as “Backstroke U.” How do you feel about trying to uphold that tradition.
CD: I kind of morphed into that role as a backstroker. Whether it is leading off the medley relays or kind of being our staple guy in the 100 and 200, I’ve fallen into that role. The most important thing is just trying to score as many points as possible to help the team.
BB: What are you studying at Bucknell?
CD: I’m an econ major, and I’ll probably go for an environmental science minor. I’ve been getting into that a little more. I came in undecided, so I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. I took an econ class, really liked it, and now I’m kind of finding my niche. I’ve always felt that balancing swimming and academics have helped me in both areas. It keeps me on a regimen. I know when I have to get my work done, and I can stay focused and not waste time. It’s always helped me plot out my time and get things done.
BB: Thanks Chris, and good luck this week at the Patriot League Championships!