By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- Min Wei (Fushun, China/Cascade HS) is a freshman on the Willamette University women's swimming team, but she has made an impact on the team despite being in her first season of collegiate swimming. She is one of the Bearcats' top breaststroke swimmers.
It has been a journey for Wei to Willamette, starting in China, moving much closer to Salem as a high school and club team swimmer at Cascade High School in Turner, Oregon, and eventually joining the Bearcats this past fall.
"I grew up in Fushun, China, then moved here when I was eleven," Wei explained. "Mandarin is my first language so I am fluent in that, and English is my second language."
Wei's connection to swimming began while she was still in China. A family member recommended swimming as a sport to try, and before long Wei was succeeding in the pool.
"I started swimming when I was about eight years old. My aunt suggested swimming to me as a fun activity to do, so they signed me up for lessons. After a few lessons, I gained more interest in it and started doing well," Wei said.
Then Wei moved to the United States and continued to swim. She competed at Cascade High School and also for a local swim club. She was good enough to advance to State while swimming for Cascade.
"When I was in high school, I qualified for the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) State Championships for all four years," Wei recalled. "I placed fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke and seventh in the 100-yard butterfly in 2017, and fifth in the 100-yard butterfly and seventh in the 100-yard breaststroke in 2018."
Wei's experiences as a swimmer during high school had a huge impact on her. "I learned so many positive things from both teams (high school and club). They have not only helped me to become a better swimmer, but also a passionate learner," Wei noted.
It made sense for Wei to seek continued success as a swimmer in college, so she joined the Willamette women's swimming team last fall. Her career spans only eight dual meets and three invitational meets, yet Wei has already made an impact.
Wei has the top time this season for the Bearcats in the 100-yard breaststroke at 1:09.35 and the 200-yard individual medley at 2:23.55. She is second in the team in the 100-yard butterfly at 1:03.54, the 200-yard butterfly at 2:29.84, and the 200-yard breaststroke at 2:37.55. She has competed on Willamette's top relay team in the 200-yard freestyle relay, 200-yard medley relay, 400-yard freestyle relay and 400-yard medley relay.
"Min has been a great addition to our team this year," Head Coach Brent Summers said. "Recruiting her, we knew we were getting a strong swimmer in the breaststroke and butterfly events, and also a great individual to add to our team culture. Min has come in and worked very hard and has quickly become one of our top swimmers."
Her favorite events involve the breaststroke.
"Breaststroke has always been one of the top strokes that I love ... I love swimming it, watching it, and learning from it," Wei said. "Breaststroke was the first stroke that I learned when I started swimming. I think I have fallen in love with it since then."
Wei's efforts have had a positive impact on other Willamette swimmers.
"In addition to her own improvements, she has helped her teammates get better by working hard at each practice," Summers commented. "Her work ethic and determination have made her a joy to coach, and I'm very excited to watch her swim at the Northwest Conference Championships."
Although Wei has been successful as a swimmer for the Bearcats, some of her top memories of the season have been outside the pool.
"I remember one time during practice, Coach Summers asked us to select one person from each class (Fr., So., Jr., Sr.) to be in a cone flipping game," Wei said. The game used rubber security cones from the pool deck. One cone was left upright and stationary, while each class representative attempted to flip another cone on top of the first cone from a distance of about 10 feet.
"If any of them got a cone to land on top of the other one, then we would cool down, but if not, then we had to sprint another 50 yards", Wei continued. "Each person had two chances, but no one made it. It was really funny and tense to watch a few of the close ones."
Wei recalled another team activity that resulted in fun and laughter.
"Our team held a lip sync battle during the end of winter training," Wei commented. "We performed in our swim families (groups within the team). There were so many great and funny dances. Our team was so amazed by each other's talents, and the whole gym was filled with our laughter."
One of the keys to Wei's success as a swimmer with the Bearcats that she likes so many facets of being a member of the team. She explained that she likes "training together, cheering each other on both in and out of the pool, traveling to meets together, learning from each other, watching teammates singing and dancing in the locker room, spending time together, random things that we talk about, and the memories that were created."
"As a teammate, Min has integrated very well into not only her (recruiting) class, but the entire team," Summers said. "She is often found with a smile on her face and a positive attitude regardless of the difficulty of the practice."
When she's not swimming, Wei is interested in her course work as a Willamette student. She plans to major in Chinese Studies and perhaps add a minor.
"The interesting areas of my planned major are not only the language itself, but the social issues and the contemporary culture are also very interesting to me," Wei said.
Soon, the Bearcats will be traveling to this weekend's Northwest Conference Championships. The NWC Meet begins on Thursday, Feb. 7 with an evening session, which will be followed by day and evening sessions from Friday (Feb. 8) through Sunday (Feb. 10). Most finals will be held in the evening.
"As we prepare for the Northwest Conference Championships, I will stay mentally sharp, visualize my races, and practice some behind-the-block prep routines," Wei noted. "Finally, I'm very excited to swim at conference. It will be an unforgettable experience."