Madison Coughlen

Madison Coughlen poses for a portrait in the Bob Devaney Sports Center-Natatorium on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

One of the hardest things for a collegiate athlete to do is adjust to the training schedule a program has in place. 

For junior swimmer Madison Coughlen, that was true, but she is unlikely to back down from a challenge.

Coughlen was actually a gymnast when she was younger, but she grew to not like it because of the practices. Her parents told her she had to pick a new sport, and she decided on swimming because she always loved swimming in her grandparents’ pool as a kid.  

She started competing in a summer league when she was eight years old for the Tega Cay Breakers. Her coach, Cindy Van Buskirk, talked to Coughlen one day after practice and told her she had a talent for the sport and she would love for Coughlen to join the club Van Buskirk coached.

After that, Coughlen started with her club team, Rock Hill Aquatics, in South Carolina. She competed for her club team up until her sophomore year of high school. She also competed for the high school team at Fort Mill High School, where she set school records in the 500-yard freestyle and 200-yard freestyle, but those were not the moments that she remembers most.

“I remember most the state meet relays, mostly the medley relay because we had won them while I was swimming fly,” Coughlen said. “The energy between the four of us I will always remember.”

She was also awarded the team's most valuable swimmer twice.

“[My coach] knew what events I was best in right away, so that's what I trained in, so from that I would swim those events in every meet and was able to improve and always score top on the team because of those events,” Coughlen said. 

The summer going into 11th grade, Coughlen and her family moved to Texas due to her father being a pilot. She had to find a new club to swim for, which ended up being the Texas Ford Aquatics. 

Coughlen continued to find success with her new club, leading them to a third-place finish in the short course sectionals. Her success earned her a lot of recruiting interest from colleges such as Kentucky, West Virginia, Florida State and Georgia Tech.

Assistant coach Patrick Rowan, who handles some of the recruiting for Nebraska, actually went down to one of Coughlen’s practices to show the interest the team had in her.

“I honestly didn’t know where Nebraska was, but after Pat came down my parents [told] me that I should take an unofficial visit,” Coughlen said. “After I went the first time and saw the team and the facilities, I planned my official visit, and it kind of went from there.”

Head coach Pablo Morales was also recruiting her as well, and he saw a swimmer that would help the team for years to come.

“Texas has a rich pipeline of swimmers, and we were happy to get in on that,” Morales said. 

In Coughlen’s freshman year at Nebraska, she was able to put together seven top-five finishes, along with three career-bests in 200-yard IM, 100-yard butterfly and 200-yard butterfly. 

Even though she had a successful first year, it didn’t show what she was having to overcome.

“Back in high school, I would be having three-hour-long practices so it was easier to train, but at Nebraska we have a training limit, so practices were an hour and 45 minutes, so the practices were a lot different than what I was used to,” Coughlen said.

Coughlen said that Morales sat down with her before the next season to have a meeting like they do before every season to talk about his expectations for her going into sophomore year. 

“This is really when he hit home about the way I had been training,” Coughlen said. “He told me that when we practice, we practice hard, so instead of those three-hour practices where I could kind of muscle through it, I needed to change my mindset because when he asked us to go fast, we had to go fast.”

With that added motivation from Morales and a year of experience already under her belt, Coughlen knew what to do going into her sophomore year. She was able to end the season with eight top-five finishes and added four new career-bests. 

On top of that, Coughlen swam at the Big Ten Championships. Coughlen finished 11th with a career-best time of 1:57.69 in the 200-yard butterfly. 

With her junior year still underway, she has a lot more races to show the improvement she has already made. However, one moment that sticks out already was when she broke the school record in the 200-yard butterfly, which was formerly held by junior Izzie Murray. During that race, she was also able to qualify for an NCAA B-cut. 

“This was my goal for awhile now,” Coughlen said. “I wanted it last year but was just behind [Murray]. [I] knew that if I was going to get that I needed to work hard and use my training to just put my head down and get after it.”

With her getting the B-cut, she will have to wait and see if she gets to swim at the NCAA Championships.

“The meet that she did break the record and get that cut was a meet that we trained really hard for. We were not expecting for someone to go [get] a record or NCAA cut but maybe some personal bests,” Morales said. “But once she got going, I knew that the race was going to be special.”

After almost three full years into her Nebraska career, Coughlen feels at home with the Huskers.

“With the friends that I have made from this team and the way that the school has supported me both with swimming and school,” she said, “[it] makes me know that I made the right decision.”