WHEN Rachael Sollman arrived at Columbus North as a freshman, she was a swimmer first and a runner second.
Although running is her main sport now and in the future at the collegiate level, the Bull Dogs senior is trying to make the most of her final competitive swimming season. She hopes to lead North to its 16th consecutive Conference Indiana title today at Chick Newell Natatorium.
“My freshman year, I came here thinking ‘I’ll give up running, and I’ll just focus on swimming,’ and now everything is turned around and changed,” Sollman said. “I definitely was more focused on swimming because I had been doing that so much longer.”
Sollman said she was running just because that was something her brother, Ben, did.
She’s glad she stuck with it. Sollman recently earned a scholarship to run cross-country and track at Xavier University. She picked the Musketeers over Belmont, DePaul, Grand Valley State and Iowa.
“I definitely wanted to be close to home,” Sollman said. “All the other schools I looked at were probably four, five, six hours away. I wanted to stay closer, and it’s a smaller school. I like the size, and it has a little bit of (Jesuit) religious background to it, and that’s definitely important to me.”
Sollman became hooked on running after a big freshman season. She helped the cross-country team to a state championship and finished fourth in the 1,600 meters in track.
“I came here my freshman year, and I was like ‘I don’t know if I want to run. I’m not so sure about it,’ because I had a really good summer that year in swimming,” Sollman said. “My mom just said, ‘Just try it out, and if you don’t like it you can not do it.’ I guess I got hooked.
“Maybe a lot of that success made me want to stay, but a lot of it had to do with the team atmosphere and how much I really enjoyed being with everyone,” she said. “I made a lot of good friends. I enjoyed the coaching staff a lot, too.”
As a sophomore and junior, Sollman was the No. 2 runner on state runner-up cross-country teams and earned All-State honors. She was All-State again as a senior when she helped lead the team to a third-place state finish.
Sollman also has been back to the state track meet the past two years. Last year, she was the Conference Indiana champion in the 800 and ran on the 4x800 relay team that finished 10th at state, .16 of a second away from a medal.
Her focus for the time being is on swimming. A multiple-time relay All-American, Sollman just missed qualifying for state in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events last year. She hopes to make it in at least one of those events, as well as the relays, this year.
“I took the summer off from swimming, which is something I’ve never done before,” Sollman said. “But coming back, my times aren’t as bad as I thought they were going to be. Definitely, I’ve worked a little bit harder I think at pushing myself in practice and staying focused on not only my goals, but the team goals, as well.”
North swimming coach Jim Sheridan said she trains with the hardest workers at practice each day. “I don’t think she thinks of it as playing catch-up,” Sheridan said of her missing summer workouts. “She thinks of it about getting ahead of where she was a year ago.”
Sollman currently owns the Bull Frogs’ fastest times in the 50 free (25.22 seconds) and 100 free (54.59).
“When you swim three months a year, her motivation is to be better each year, and she’s certainly worked hard,” Sheridan said. “Swimming is just like running. Sometimes it works out; sometimes it doesn’t. You have to have all the stars aligned to go fast, and we do our best to get her to align her stars every time she gets on the blocks.”
A swimmer since the age of 3 in her hometown of North Vernon, Sollman started with Donner Swim Club between her seventh- and eighth-grade years. Her older brother and sisters were swimmers at Jennings County, and Rachael attended Jennings County through middle school, but now makes the 30-minute drive to North.
Sollman realizes her competitive swimming career is coming to a close. The girls sectional is Jan. 31 and Feb. 2, and the state finals are Feb. 8-9.
“It definitely makes me look at everything as ‘This is your last chance, and you don’t want to go out on a bad note, so do everything you can and use every opportunity every day,’” Sollman said.
“She’s just a very talented athlete,” said Sheridan, who expects Sollman to excel in the triathlon as she matures.
Sollman has never competed in a triathlon but is open to the idea.
“I’ve always wanted to,” Sollman said. “When I graduate from college and running is over and competitively I’m done with things, definitely I would want to try it out and see how I do because swimming and running — I love both of them, so it would be hard to give them up.”