Swimming & Diving

The Thundering Word: Pulfer, Herd Drowning Old Record Book in Pool


HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Madi Pulfer has had an exceptional two seasons on Marshall’s swimming and diving team

Madi PulferThat isn’t to say, however, that Pulfer is an exception among the waterworldly Herd.

Pulfer, of Ottawa, Ontario, just returned to the MU campus this week from the Canadian Olympic Trials in Toronto, where she competed in the 400- and 800-meter freestyle events and the 200 backstroke. It was her second Canadian Trials in the 200 back, the first coming when she was 15.

It’s just another accomplishment for a Herd program finishing its fourth year under Coach Bill Tramel, whose team has been wrecking records in the last two seasons.

Marshall competes in 22 swimming and diving events in the NCAA Division I and Conference USA seasons. Of those 22, the Herd has set school records in 19 over the past two seasons. Twelve of those marks were set in 2015-16.

And while Pulfer owns a team-high three individual school records (500- and 1,000-yard freestyles and the 200 back) over her two seasons, teammates Gloriya Mavrova, Chloe Parsemain and Caroline Wanner swam to two Herd marks this season alone, while Megan Wolons set a pair of standards in diving.

The future is bright, too, for Tramel’s “United Nations team,” which includes natives of Canada, Germany, Israel, France and Bulgaria, and just added a signee native to Italy. There also are 10 states represented on the roster … and only one senior exits the buoyant program.

“The program is way better than I thought it would be when I came in (August 2014),” Pulfer said. “When I signed, we were last in the conference. The time I came in with in the 200 back, it would have won the conference that year … I dropped 2½ seconds on my time and came in fifth in conference my first year. And we had another girl just behind me and another just behind her.

“And Caroline came in this year and swam a 2-minute 200 back. So many more girls have risen to that level. When I came in, I would have had the 100 back record, the 200 back record. Now, I don’t have the 100. Chloe has it. There are so many girls on this team who have gotten so much better. It’s a lot better than I thought it would be.”

The Herd finished third in the C-USA Championships in February, with a school-record 12 medals (top three finishers). That was nine more than last year. And the only school marks that haven’t been reset in the past two winters are in the 200 butterfly, 100 breaststroke and 1-meter diving.

The 5-foot-7 Pulfer, one of nine sophomores in the program, is part of what has proven to be a very strong recruiting class.

“I guess the team is the biggest difference from before,” Pulfer said. “If you look at it now versus the team maybe four years ago, obviously the coach is different. And I think when Bill came in he had a really strong vision for the team and I think with that he brought in girls who had such a strong desire to get better and to fight and to win.

“I look around at practice and every single girl wants to be there; every single girl wants to work hard, to improve. And I think the atmosphere on the team wasn’t the same as now, even from when I came in (fall of 2014). You could see the team struggling. Just from my senior year of high school to the end of my freshman year, there was such improvement because everyone was so motivated.”

Pulfer’s own improvement since her arrival at Marshall is shown in her times. She’s cut 16 seconds from her 500 free time and 21 seconds in the 1,000. In the 1,650, her leap is 1:18. Her 200 backstroke school record of 1:59.99 was set in 2014-15 and is down from 2:01.44.
“She didn’t swim the 200 back this year, so she didn’t get to realize improvement this year that she would have,” Tramel said.

“I’d like to think it’s the 200 back,” Pulfer said when asked her thoughts on her best event. “I’ve been a backstroker since I was 8 years old. I think the 500 and 1,000 (freestyles) were something Bill had to pull out of me. Those weren’t something I came here expecting to swim, but I mean, realistically, the 500 is probably my event now.”

The kind of commitment Tramel appreciates and wants from his team was displayed by Pulfer in preparing for her nation’s Olympic Trials. After qualifying in the two freestyle events in a long course meet in Nashville, Tenn., the week after the C-USA Championships (Feb. 24-27), MU’s spring break occurred in late March.

Pulfer was vacationing in San Diego with her parents and two of her Herd teammates, Nele Albers and Shir Wasserman. However, Pulfer needed to continue training for the April 5-9 Olympic Trials.

“Oh, definitely, it was difficult,” she said, “especially when you only have two people showing up to our pool here (before the break), and some days it was just me. And then in California I had to take time out of every day and get to the pool to practice.
“It’s definitely hard to keep that motivation when you don’t have your whole team there doing it for you and no one is telling you that you have to show up. The level of self-motivation it required was definitely a challenge.”

Pulfer was a standout for her club team, the Greater Ottawa Kingfish, and was on Tramel’s radar as part of that large recruiting class. And while the swimmer was interested in leaving home, the Herd wasn’t originally in her thoughts.

“I always knew I wanted to come and swim in the States; it’s been my goal since I was 10,” Pulfer said. “In recruiting, I got on a lot of (school) websites and it was talking to a lot of different coaches, all over the country – California, Arizona, Florida.

“West Virginia, honestly, was not on my radar – I won’t lie – when I first started. Then I got a call from Bill and just by his passion, his excitement about the team and the program, made me take a trip here. And once I was here, I met the team and it felt like home to me. I loved the atmosphere, how excited the whole campus was about being at Marshall.”

As for wanting to swim collegiately in the U.S. since she was age 10, Pulfer wasn’t sure of how those thoughts floated into her head.

“I don’t exactly know why,” she said. “I think because the team I was on (the Kingfish), that was kind of what the girls graduating who were at the high level, they always came to the States. And now, more and more swimmers are staying in Canada, but I think for me, this was the best fit.

“It’s just a different level of intensity, a different level of team. Here, it’s so exciting because every meet you go to, you go compete as a team. That’s something we never had because club swimming was so individual and here you’re so passionate about representing your school. And that was exciting to me.”

Pulfer, 19, is a criminal justice major, and also is taking political science as a minor. She has a 3.73 GPA, with a goal of law school after two more years in the pool for the Herd, where her name appears a fourth time on the records pages in the 800 free relay (7:20.49) with Albers, Kaley Gregory and Savannah Ruedt.

“Madi is certainly a talented athlete,” Tramel said. “I think as she matures as an athlete, she will enjoy more success.”

Pulfer’s 500 free mark is 4:49.19, and her 2015-16 record was in the 1,000 free, at 10:02.55. She also has MU career top-6 times in the 100, 200 and 1,650 freestyles and the 100 back.

Tramel said the Canadian swimmer and her teammates have tasted success, and he wants Pulfer and the Herd to push forward.

“I think Madi, and really, our whole team are at a crossroads right now,” the Marshall coach said. “We’ve accomplished an enormous number of feats in the past four years. We have rewritten the record board. Our individual improvement curve is one of the best in the country.

“We medaled in half the events contested at conference championships, winning two of them. We are no longer the last-place team in the conference. Now we must decide where we go from here.

“Do we want to invest in what it takes to be Conference USA team champions and become legendary? If so, we still have plenty of work to do.”

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