The two-time NCAA champion, nine-time ACC champion and 15-time All-American senior Coleman Stewart was ready to prove a point in his final go-around for NC State swim. After claiming the NCAA throne in 100-yard backstroke in 2018, he finished just short of first place in the event at the 2019 NCAA finals. This year was his redemption year, the last chapter of his decorated career here in Raleigh until the NCAA canceled all sports for the remainder of the academic term due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
“We still had a little more to give for NCAA’s, so not having that last go around definitely hurt personally,” Stewart said. “I had unfinished business from last year and to not be able to close that chapter definitively ... it’s always going to hurt.”
Stewart absolutely dominated the 2020 ACC championship and claimed the Most Valuable Swimmer of the event. He took home gold medals in 100-yard backstroke, 200-yard backstroke, 200-yard medley relay and 400-yard medley relay. His 100-yard backstroke performance in that tournament was so impressive, it gave him the top time in the nation for the event at 44.04. This performance set him up for a very good shot at the NCAA title in the event and a story-book ending to his collegiate career. Stewart was ready for this, with ambitious aspirations for nationals.
“I think that I would have had a really good shot to be really high up there,” Stewart said. “I really wanna say I would have won it for sure, but who knows. I think I could’ve done something really great and put up a time to be up there for Ryan Murphy’s NCAA record.”
In a sport that’s mainly about consistent training and pushing yourself to reach the best time possible, it’s no doubt that the end of the season is where each swimmer is at their strongest and has the most at stake. After the NCAA canceled the finals, this ruined what many swimmers in the NCAA have been working for their entire season. Although it was justified to cancel the rest of the season due to COVID-19, the NCAA decided not to give winter sports athletes, including swimming, another year of eligibility, and they did not postpone any of the national tournaments. Stewart was definitely one of those swimmers who feels that their season was robbed from them.
“I’m disappointed for sure. I was expecting the decision from what I heard from the higher-ups in NCAA,” Stewart said. “Swimming is a sport where everything is so focused on the end of the season, to the point where it feels like I didn’t really have a senior season. It was at least good to have ACC’s, and going out on top with that. Still not having that definitive written last chapter, it’s weird. I’m disappointed in the NCAA.”
Stewart strongly disapproved of the way the NCAA handled the situation. The NCAA gave spring athletes another year of eligibility, but denied winter athletes, and took a great amount of time to release this information. Not only did the NCAA deny granting winter athletes another year of eligibility, but they did not attempt to reschedule the national tournaments. With the MLB making an attempt to return as early as May with empty stadiums, this could be possible for March Madness and other national tournaments, but there was no attempt at rescheduling. Stewart also had a problem with the amount of time it took for the NCAA to make their decision on winter athletes’ eligibility and their seasons.
“I was talking with the International Swimming League about a deal, but the NCAA hadn’t released their decision yet,” Stewart said. “But frankly, I think the NCAA waiting so long to make a decision hurt me financially. Because they were taking so long, I had to tell teams to wait which then lessened the offer. I think it did hurt a little bit. Like I said, I’m disappointed in the NCAA.”
Although he had a frustrating end to his collegiate career, Coleman Stewart certainly has a bright future ahead of him. He is planning on swimming in a professional league with top-notch competition from around the globe and has the potential to be the next member of the Wolfpack to join the USA Olympic Team. Stewart’s top time in the 100-yard backstroke was only 0.49 away from beating Ryan Murphy’s NCAA record, and Murphy went on to win gold in the event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Stewart’s time in the event also puts him at the top three in NCAA history.
With Stewart’s strong ambition and consistency, it is not hard to believe that he will be at Murphy’s level soon. These traits have separated him from many in the pool throughout his career, and it’s what has made him one of the greatest swimmers to come through NC State.