“I enjoyed swimming at [Minnesota], but didn’t feel all that ‘at home’ there,” he said. “My roommate transferred out my sophomore year and that got me thinking, ‘Am I at the right place?’ My older brothers, twins Kevin and Tim, were swimming at St. Thomas and having a great time. They had a balance of life that I was missing. Swimming was part of their college life, but not what defined them. They and their teammates actually had fun at practice. The more I thought about things, the more I wanted to be part of what they had.”
Tom Hodgson, who completed his 31st year as UST’s coach, called Peter "hands down, the best swimmer I've ever coached. But there is a modesty to Peter that you might not expect in a swimmer so talented. He doesn’t seek the spotlight. When he performs, it really gets our kids revved up. It is inspirational, watching him attack a race.”
In his first season at UST, Peter garnered All-MIAC honors with first place finishes in three individual events. He captured the conference crown in the 50 yard freestyle, the 100 yard backstroke and the 200 yard backstroke. His times in all three events broke the MIAC meet record, and he eclipsed the conference all-time records in both backstroke races. Peter also swam legs on the UST 200 yard medley relay team that finished second and was part of three third-place relay teams (200 yard freestyle, 400 yard freestyle and 400 yard medley).
He went on to earn All-American honors in two events. In the 200 backstroke, Peter broke the existing NCAA Division III record, finished second, despite swimming the second-fastest 200 backstroke in Division III history. He also placed ninth in the 100 backstroke.
This year was no ordinary season for UST swimming. Their home pool, the antiquated O’Shaughnessy pool, the oldest still in use by a collegiate team, was demolished in January, as construction on the new athletic complex on campus was two months ahead of schedule. Forced to practice at three different pools in the area, the UST team emerged as a contender for the MIAC title, which had eluded the Tommies since the 1953-54 season. Peter was an integral part of the ascension of UST to the upper tier of the conference.
At the MIAC Meet, the Tommie tsunami would not be denied. Peter swept first place in his three individual events, winning the 50 free, 100 backstroke and 200 backstroke. He broke the MIAC meet record in both backstrokes and topped the all-time MIAC record in the 100. He swam a leg on four first-place relays (the 200 and 400 freestyle and the 200 and 400 medley). For good measure, all four relay teams established school records. Heading into the meet’s final event, the 400 free relay, UST trailed perennial power Gustavus by two points, but had comfort in the fact that the four fastest times in the 100 freestyle had been turned in by the four UST swimmers. Peter swam the first leg, opening up a two second lead that UST did not relinquish. That gave the Tommies the team title with 709 points.
It was no surprise that Peter was named MIAC Swimmer of the Meet.
Peter qualified for the NCAA Division III championships in seven events - 50 free, 100 back, 200 back and four relays. Peter claimed All-American honors in the 100 and 200 backstroke, taking third in each. He added an All-American performance in the 50 free, capturing fifth. The UST relay teams placed ninth in the 400 medley, 10th in the 200 medley, 10th in the 400 freestyle and 13th in the 200 freestyle, with Peter swimming a leg on each. St. Thomas scored 104 points in team competition, finishing 11th. It was their best showing ever at the NCAA Championships.
Coach Hodgson notes “Peter came to St. Thomas, in part, because of the Catholic identity of the school, but also how that is accessible in a community of friends. He flourished here, because he has become woven into our swimming team’s sense of family. He is utterly unselfish in a very self-centered world. He is respectful to the coaches, and treats everyone on the team with the same sense of respect and affection, whether you are a member of a relay team shooting for nationals, or a new first-year swimmer still perfecting a flip turn.”
Peter grew up in Madison, WI, the seventh of eight children. “There is Alison, Erin, Jon, Meghan, the twins [Kevin and Tim], me and Justin,” he said. “All the boys swam in high school, and Meghan played basketball. Kevin, Tim and I are the only ones to swim in college.”
He attended Memorial High, swimming on the varsity for four seasons. He competed in sprints, mainly in the backstroke and freestyle. Peter qualified for the State Meet as a sophomore in the 50 and 100 freestyle. He placed 18th in each. As a junior, Peter was the state champion in the 100 free, and finished third in the 50. The following season, he took first place in the 100 backstroke and third in the 100 free.
Peter also swam on the 200 medley and 200 free relay teams. In his sophomore year, Memorial finished second in both relays. They took first place in both relays in Peter’s junior and senior years.
He was recognized as an All-American in the 50 free and 100 free as a junior and in the 100 free and 100 backstroke his senior year.
Out of the pool, Peter played percussion in the school band.
In the fall and summer, he swam with the Madison Aquatic Club. He was part of the 200-meter freestyle relay team that set the national record, taking first place at the Junior Nationals. They finished third in the 200-meter medley and 400-meter freestyle relays. Peter reached the Nationals in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyles, but did not qualify for the final heat.
His performances with the Aquatic Club and with Memorial drew the attention of many Division I programs, including Wisconsin, Indiana, Florida State and Minnesota. Peter accepted a partial scholarship from Minnesota. “The success of the program was a big part of my choice,” he said. “Plus the twins were entering their junior year at St. Thomas and would be nearby. I liked the location and its proximity to home, too.”
Peter is a Business major with a concentration in Accounting and sports a 3.15 GPA. Because of his transfer, he will graduate in the spring of 2011.
At St. Thomas, Peter has been a member of the accounting club for two years. He also has been active in the Catholic Men’s Group. “Being at St. Thomas had added to my faith,” he stated.
For Peter, being at St. Thomas has given him the happiness he felt was missing before he transferred. “The guys on the team are like brothers,” he said. “They are all really close friends. It feels like I am spending time with brothers every day. I like the fact that I am not a number in a big lecture hall but rather I am part of a class. The professors are helpful and take a personal interest. The education I have received has been great. The Business program here is top-notch. Companies in the area know this and look for St. Thomas grads.”
The success the Tommies have enjoyed during Peter’s seasons has been special to Coach Hodgson. It gives the program a boost as it prepares to move into a new home on campus next fall. While Hodgson had many fond memories of Peter, “the best memories are mostly a montage of quiet moments, where his confidence in our program, his kindness, and his dedication to our goals might have been expressed only in a small, knowing smile, or a nod of the head…followed by a record-breaking swim.”
[Photos are courtesy of the University of St. Thomas Sports Information Office.]
The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.
This feature will be included in the "Profiles of Excellence 2009-2010" book which will be available for order at RDM Publishing. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s "Mapping the MIAC" columnist Rich Mies.