Senior Jack Saunderson went from almost giving up swimming to earning a spot on the U.S. National Team for the World University Games
Jack Saunderson has always loved the sport of swimming. But coming out of high school he wasn’t planning on swimming in college. In fact, he figured he would move on from the sport.
Four years later, as a member of the Towson University swimming and diving team, Saunderson clinched a time of 51.48 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly preliminaries on July 27 at the Phillips 66 National Championships in Newport Beach, Calif.
That time gave the Laurel, Md. native the fifth-fastest in the world in the men’s 100-meter fly this year, and the second quickest by an American. It also gave him a victory over favorites Michael Andrew and Olympic gold medalist Caeleb Dressel.
With his performance at the National Championships, Saunderson has now qualified for a spot on the U.S. National Team heading to the 2019 World University Games in Italy.
“That was probably one of the highlights of my swimming career,” Saunderson said. “(Finishing first) It was really surprising. It was a real change of pace from college swimming to a big, national-type of competition. And all the guys there… they’ve inspired me.”
While Saunderson was surprised by the finish, TU Swimming and Diving coach Jake Shrum wasn’t. This was the fourth national level meet Shrum has attended with Saunderson, and each time the coach not only sees improvement, he enjoys himself too.
“He’s just a fun person to be around,” Shrum said. “Each meet he ends up being in a different tier when it comes to those 'names,' it’s not exactly surprising anymore. He is one of those names.”
Since coming to Towson University, Saunderson has made his mark on the Tigers’ program. During his freshman year, he was named the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Rookie Swimmer of the Year.
During his sophomore and junior years, he was named the CAA Swimmer of the Year — the conference's first repeat winner of the award since 2012 and the eighth in conference history to win consecutive Swimmer of the Year honors.
But probably his favorite accomplishment since coming to Towson University was this season when his teammates named him a team captain along with friends — and roommates — Evan Brophy and Ben Johnston.
“It’s super cool, because I’ve always wanted to be a captain,” Saunderson said. “My goal is to help the team improve. I’m excited about how we're doing so far this season, and my goal is to try and lead them, inspire them and motivate them.”
It’s been a pretty good career for a guy who was ready to give up swimming coming out of high school. It was during one of his final high school meets when Saunderson decided that his future would include swimming — and that the place to propel that future would be Towson University.
When asked what he thinks about Saunderson giving up the sport, all Shrum can do is laugh.
“I think anyone who knows Jack wouldn’t be surprised by that,” Shrum said. “Swimming is a very tough sport that demands time, dedication, and sacrifice to improve. It’s been awesome seeing him blossom into a vocal leader for our team.
“And then him personally, you couldn’t ask for a better person. He’s committed, driven, and still has a lot of fun with his teammates.”
One of the reasons he thought about leaving the pool was because he wanted to follow his father Evan’s footsteps and get into the business world. He’s lining himself up for those steps as part of TU’s Business Administration Program with a focus in management.
This summer, Saunderson dove into to the business world, completing an internship at the Enterprise location at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.
“The last four years have been great and I can’t imagine myself anywhere else,” Saunderson said. “The work I’ve done here has given me a good, inside feel of how the business world works with actual experience and not just financial equations.”
With all the awards and the trip to the World University Games, Saunderson could be on track for the U.S. Olympic trials and even the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But the senior is much more focused on his final season at Towson University.
He’s also just enjoying the chance to still be swimming competitively.
“I’m excited because this is the best team we’ve had in a long time,” he said. “I want to direct all my focus on my senior year and my last year at TU. I want to put my best food forward.”
The Towson University men’s swimming and diving team is in the middle of its season. Their final home meet will be on Saturday, January 12 at the Burdick Hall Pool against Drexel.