At the center of Alabama swimming and diving’s international melting pot, freshman swimmer Leonie Kullmann has found her comfort zone.
The Crimson Tide boasts plenty of international flavor on the pool deck, but few swimmers have a background as mixed as UA’s newest freshman star.
As a result, Kullmann has already become Alabama’s record holder in the 200 and 500 freestyle and as part of the 400 freestyle relay, and is one of nine female swimmers to compete for Alabama in the NCAA championships in Columbus, Ohio, starting Wednesday.
Kullmann, a German athlete, had the experience of swimming in both the U.S. and her home country when she arrived on campus last year. From 2009-11 she spent her time in Tuscaloosa swimming for the club team Crimson Tide Aquatics while her family was working for Mercedes. She returned to Germany for six more years, but when it was time to make her college decision she was already familiar with Alabama.
“Alabama had a great offer, and I knew they had great coaches and experience,” Kullmann said. “I think it was a great decision to come back here.”
But her transition back to the United States took a little time to figure out. The Crimson Tide’s blend of international and American swimmers made it easy for the freshman to fit in out of the water, but Kullmann was not used to practicing with such a large group.
“Everything has been so different,” Kullmann said. “Having 60 to 65 people on the team was overwhelming at first, but then it was just so much fun training with them every day. The practices are so different, even down to my day at school.”
Alabama coach Dennis Pursley noted that recruiting swimmers from overseas has now become part of his routine in order to keep pace with the other top programs. Although the training can be different in other parts of the world, the coach believes swimmers from different areas bring their own unique elements to help one another.
“The Americans come on board with a more ingrained idea of what the team concept is all about because they’ve been more exposed to it in their youth athletics and programs,” Pursley said. “But, the international swimmer typically —and there are exceptions both ways of course— they seem to have a more developed concept of 24-7 commitment.”
In her first year with the program, Kullmann already has a grasp on both of those concepts, and she’s not done. The freshman still has plenty to of time to add to her two school records that she already holds.
The NCAA championships would be the perfect place to improve even more.
“We’ve been training for this meet the whole season,” Kullmann said. “I don’t think I’ve ever trained this hard coming into Alabama. So, I’m expecting a lot of great things for myself and the team.”