ENID, Okla. —
Friday was a day of both jublilation and relief for Enid swimmer Sara Nazari after signing a Division I letter of intent with Southern Illinois University.
Nazari, slowed by back injuries the past two years, was worried she wouldn’t get the scholarship she had dreamed about since she started in the sport as a 4-year-old.
“I always had to keep OU (University of Oklahoma, which doesn’t have a swim team) as an option, just in case,’’ Nazari said, “but everything worked out the way it was supposed to.’’
Salukis coach Rick Walker contacted Nazari a month ago and everything soon fell into place.
“There was a time I didn’t know if I wanted to swim anymore,’’ Nazari said. “It was tough the last few years with my back. I was up front with him and he was willing to take a chance, which was great for me.’’
Walker has coached Olympic teams and is one of the U.S. National Open Water coaches.
“He was really awesome,’’ Nazari said. “I don’t know anyone on the team, but my recruiting time was so awesome.’’
She is the second Enid athlete to sign with SIU this spring. Tennis player Daniel Martinez signed earlier with the Salukis. Nazari had also considered Northern Colorado and Southern Connecticut.
“The last few weeks have been very stressful,’’ she said.
Nazari said her back “is better ... at times it hurts, but it’s tolerable.’’
Nazari and UNLV signee Hunter McEachern were part of three EHS school record-breaking relays and three gold-medal winning relays at the state meet.
Nazari, in her eight individual events at state in her career, had one first, five seconds, one fifth, four seconds, two thirds and one fourth. She was third in both the 200 individual medley (2:12.50) and 500 free (5:25.53) as a senior despite the back problems.
“What happens, happens,’’ Nazari said about her senior season. “I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, but everything happens the way it’s supposed to. I’m going to Southern Illinois, so I’m happy.’’
She will be competing in the Missouri Valley Conference against ex-EHS teammate Megan Holthoff of Missouri State, with whom she and McEachern combined to win two relays at state.
“It’s going to be great to see her,’’ Nazari said. “We have 14 girls coming in (at Southern Illinois). We have high hopes of winning a conference title. I want to get a lot faster and hopefully win a conference title for them. I just want to improve now. I’m definitely ready to step up.’’
She thanked her parents and her coaches and McEachern for their support.
“I’ve always had a good support system,’’ Nazari said. “My parents have been through a lot with me. It’s going to be sad to leave here.’’
It brought back memories for Enid YMCA swim instructor and coach Kathi Black.
“When she was four, her mom was driving me nuts about giving her private lessons,’’ Black said. “Now, look where she is.’’
Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.