Coco Berkenfield Answers the Call of Water All the Way to College

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Coco Berkenfield Answers the Call of Water All the Way to College

Flynn Marrinson, Contributor

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Only 7.4% of female high schoolers who swim competitively continue their swimming careers into college, according to the NCAA. The percentage of female high schoolers who will go on to swim on an NCAA Division I team? Just 3.3%.

Coco Berkenfield, the 2018 MCAL Girls’ Swimmer of the Year and holder of three SRHS pool records, is now a part of that minority. If there was a room of one hundred swimmers, she would be one of roughly three who could say they were swimming on a NCAA Division I team.

She started out on the Pacific Coast Marlins Swim Club when she was just six years old. “I’ve always felt like I have a connection to the water,” she muses, “and I always just wanted to be a swimmer.” Her older brother’s decision to swim when he was eight would be the deciding first step on what would become a long, successful journey.

It isn’t just her talent that makes her a compelling person. Fellow senior swimmer and co-captain Julia Smith repeatedly mentions how great of a person she is, stating that “she’ll get you up to speed” both in the water, and in the classroom. Lulu Woolf – another senior swimmer – puts simply that she “befriends anyone and everyone.” Berkenfield is the exact opposite of the self-centered sports star archetype.

Swimming is a large part of her identity, but she seems determined to not let her penchant for it alone define her. She’s also academically talented (her mother tried to push her into looking at Ivy Leagues), artistically inclined (she took AP Studio Art her junior year), and a down-to-Earth, caring individual (as attested to above) .

One would think swimming for twelve years non-stop would be a surefire way to get tired of the sport. After all, it is a huge commitment, and all it takes is one rough patch for someone to pour their hard work down the drain and quit. Berkenfield admitted that she “definitely went through some difficult times” where she thought “I really don’t want to do this anymore.”

So, how did she stick with it? She kept her sport from consuming her entirely. Before her, it was her mom enforcing that idea, constantly commenting, “‘swimming is not the most important thing that’s ever going to happen to you.’” Staving off the sports blues meant taking time for herself every once in awhile, and when she was younger, only going to practice every other weekday.

Due to an unhappiness with her coaching towards the middle of her career, she felt especially unmotivated. Her mother Suzanne Hudson provided her with support by “letting her choose if she wanted to stop swimming, or… just helping her find solutions and talking her through it.” From the Merlins, Berkenfield went to the Marin Pirates Swim Team, to North Bay Aquatics after a couple of years with the previous team. She is still swimming with that organization at the time of writing.

It’s through those experiences that Berkenfield knows about the reality of what coaching can do for the success of an athlete and their mindset.  One of her older coaches, who she remembers as having a style particularly tough and mean, wore down his successful athletes. According to her, “almost every one of his swimmers who went collegiate stopped after freshman year.”

She doesn’t plan to stop, though, and from what she has experienced so far, Nevada’s team is going to be a perfect fit. She knew that that was exactly where she wanted to be the second she stepped on campus. “She just lights up anytime you talk to her about her next step with Nevada,” Kate Thorp, the San Rafael High Varsity Swim Team’s head coach, says.

She encourages other prospective collegiate athletes to reach out to a college if they haven’t heard anything. After all, emailing UN-R’s coach worked for her. She officially committed this past November, signing off on a 75% ride there. That money, she says, is a mix of the WUE scholarship and a swimming scholarship.

So if the only thing holding you back is mulling over whether you are good enough to compete, or that you haven’t been recruited, Coco Berkenfield says go for it.

“I chose it because it’s what I love to do, and it’s what I want to do for four more years… if you love a sport, and really want to keep going, you should definitely strive to do that.”