GVSU swim and dive hauls in Netherlands transfer

GVL / Emily Frye      
Junior Leonie Van Noort works hard during practice on Oct. 13th.

GVL / Emily Frye Junior Leonie Van Noort works hard during practice on Oct. 13th.

Beau Troutman

Leonie Van Noort’s destiny as a collegiate swimmer in the United States was nearly compromised by water polo.

“During swimming lessons I hated it, I was always quiet when I went,” Van Noort said. “So I quit and I played water polo for a while, but I didn’t like that, so I continued to swim.

“I always pushed people under water, which I wasn’t allowed to do. Very competitive.”

Luckily for GVSU, she stayed the course, and is now a key swimmer for a Laker team that has high expectations this year. Van Noort is from the Netherlands, and arrived in the U.S. in August. She is one of 13 international players on the men’s and women’s teams.

Sven Cardol, a former GVSU swimmer and senior team captain last year, was also from the Netherlands, and persuaded Van Noort to come to GVSU as well.

“I actually talked to her a couple years ago,” said GVSU head coach Andy Boyce. “Sven graduated last year, and he told us about her originally. She sent us an email here this spring and decided she wanted to transfer, and be able to swim in the United States, and go to school in the United States.”

Van Noort narrowed her decision down to a few schools. She chose GVSU not only because of her connection with Cardol, but because some of her other choices didn’t have a marketing major.

One of the schools going after Van Noort was in Florida, but, after a visit, she knew right away she’d rather live in the Midwest than the Sunshine State.

“There was an opportunity for me to go to Florida, I just didn’t like the people who were there, and honestly I do not think I’d survive in their climate. I haven’t seen the winter here, it’s probably too cold, but at least I have four seasons,” she said.

Although she has yet to witness the horrors of a West Michigan winter, she’s content in her decision to come to GVSU, which expects to have strong men’s and women’s teams this season.

While coming to live in the United States was a transitioning process in and of itself, Van Noort feels swimming in the United States has afforded her many opportunities that she wouldn’t have had back home.

“In the Netherlands, you have universities and you have swimming separate. Here, it’s just one big thing. It’s very difficult to do swimming and studies at the same time in the Netherlands, and it’s just a lot easier here because everything is together,” she said.

“Sometimes, I feel like I’m going to die (in the United States). The first night I was here I already broke my toe, and I’ve never broken a bone in my life, so that’s not a good thing. I always bump my head, I always trip over something. Maybe it’s just me and I’m very clumsy.”

Broken bones and bumped heads aside, things are going swimmingly for Van Noort. GVSU held its first meet on Oct. 10, a “Black vs. Blue” intersquad scrimmage. In her first collegiate meet, Van Noort broke the pool record for the women’s 500-meter freestyle with a time of 5:00.18.

“Right away she’s posting times close to our school records already, so that’s an exciting thing to see. The way she practices and the way she’s done this past week, I would say that she would do well at the conference level as well as the national level,” Boyce said.

Van Noort saw the former record time posted, but she didn’t think she could beat it.

She knew she could.

“During practice, I was showing good times,” she said. “My best time ever is 4:50 on the 500, and I just felt like I could. It’s just a feeling.”

One thing Van Noort noticed when she broke the record was the support of her teammates, which was somewhat absent back home.

“I beat some guys, and they weren’t grumpy after that, they were congratulating me. They weren’t happy that I beat them, but they weren’t showing it. Back home it’s not like that,” she said.

“A lot of international swimmers don’t have that team image in their backgrounds, so when they get here, they have, gosh, 50 or 60 friends all on the team here at Grand Valley, so that makes a big difference,” Boyce said.

The women’s and men’s team open the regular season this Saturday on the road, and will face the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Boyce has high hopes for both teams.

“It’s no easy feat to qualify individuals for relays in nationals, but if we can get people there, we’ll definitely be one of the top contenders in DII. We always like to look at it as trying to be in the top 10 at the national level, and that’s definitely within reach this year,” he said.

As Van Noort prepares for her first official collegiate match and continues to adjust to the way of life here, there’s only a few more things to get used to in the states.

“No one smokes here, everyone talks on the phone while they’re driving, I hear the word ‘like’ a lot in sentences here, but it’s not really been a big transition,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a little weird, but I think I’m fitting in well.”