Tonner DeBeer’s leadership is paving the way for Vanderbilt swimming’s success
After experiencing a less-than-ideal junior season disrupted by COVID-19, DeBeer is making the most of her senior year and has led Vanderbilt to a 4-1 record to start the year.
December 2, 2021
Senior Tonner DeBeer has taken advantage of a full season for her senior year, leading Vanderbilt’s swimming team to a 4-1 record in the fall season. However, despite the early success so far, DeBeer is always looking ahead towards the spring season and SEC Championships.
“Obviously, we want to have a good season post-COVID-19 and win some dual meets,” DeBeer told The Hustler. “And we’d also love to have some people qualify for SEC’s and continue to improve team culture.”
The 2020-21 season was challenging in many aspects; there were fewer meets and stricter guidelines for practices and team meetings. The Commodores finished 0-4 in dual meets and placed near the bottom of the conference at the SEC Championships.
Nevertheless, despite the difficulties of last season, DeBeer competed in every meet and posted personal bests in the 50-yard freestyle (23.49), 50-yard butterfly (24.95) and 100-yard backstroke (55.18) at the SEC Championships. She has been and remains a steady, reliable force on the team, and her coaches notice.
“Tonner is really driven to be successful in all aspects of her life, and she works hard to reach those goals,” head coach Jeremy Organ said.
Both DeBeer and the Commodores are off to strong starts this season. The Commodores are 4-1 overall and through five dual meets thus far, DeBeer has six individual victories—three in the 100-yard butterfly (at Arkansas on Oct. 9, at Florida Gulf Coast on Oct. 16 and versus Illinois on Oct. 30) and three in the 100-yard backstroke (at Florida Gulf Coast on Oct. 16, versus Illinois on Oct. 30 and versus Tulane on Nov. 6).
DeBeer attributes some of the early success this year to it being a more normal season in that there are more meets and the team is able to spend more time together.
“We’ve had more pool time and more practice, so overall we have a lot more time to spend with each other in and outside of training,” she said. “Last year we had a much shorter season and had fewer meets, so it’s definitely been more normal this year and has been easier to spend time with each other.”
One other way in which the team builds confidence in themselves and their preparation at meets is by trying to be the loudest team in the building. Energy outside of the pool can fuel performance, and the Commodores value team enthusiasm.
“We always try to be the loudest team out there, which has helped us so far,” DeBeer said. “It doesn’t push the nerves all the way down, but it helps us stay positive and feel more confident in ourselves.”
Although the team has had early success, the bulk of the season lies ahead. The girls have dual meets at home against South Carolina on Jan. 8 and Tennessee on Jan. 20, followed by the SEC Championships Feb. 15 through Feb. 19.
One of the challenges for student athletes, particularly those that have seasons during the winter, is having less time to go home for breaks during the school year. But the team will lean on each other as students begin leaving campus.
“It can be a little challenging not having as much time as the general student body during winter break, but finding comfort in teammates helps a lot,” DeBeer said. “It also helps thinking of the commitment to Vanderbilt and to the program during some of those longer breaks.”
As the season is long and can at times be arduous, the coaches often look to their upperclassmen for leadership. DeBeer is near the top of Organ’s list as far as leaders on his squad.
“You know there’s a lot of ups and downs that occur week to week,” Organ said. “Being able to have strong leaders in that group of girls that Tonner is a part of is vital in dealing with that success and those shortcomings that come with this season and every season.”
DeBeer and her teammates will look to build on the team’s early success as they head into the winter months with the SEC Championships in mind.