Top 10 of the D1 Era - No. 4: Brittney Kuras
Kuras achieved rare feat, winning three Outstanding Swimmer Awards
Brittney Kuras needed to be two tenths of a second faster.
She swam in the preliminaries of the 100-yard freestyle at the 2014 Mid-American Conference Championships and finished with a time of 48.9. She would need a 48.7 in the actual competition to accomplish her goal of competing at the NCAA Championships.
"I had a talk with her during that day of, 'OK, if you want to make the meet, this is what you are going to need to go,'" said swimming and diving head coach Andy Bashor. "And when she heard that, you could see, 'OK, this is what I need to do. My goal is to make the meet. I'm ready.' She went out that night and made a 48.5, broke the MAC record, achieved a lifetime best and qualified for the meet. To me, that's Brittney right there."
Kuras only competed at UB for three years, but in those three years she achieved some of the most notable accomplishments in school history.
The biggest competition of the year for swimmers is the Mid-American Conference Championships. Regular season standings no longer matter; the season comes down to points scored by the top 16 swimmers in each event and five relays.
Kuras swam in nine individual events in her three seasons at UB. She won nine individual titles.
But she almost did not swim at UB. If it hadn't been for a coaching change at her first school, Rutgers, Kuras never would have redecorated the record board in the Alumni Arena Natatorium.
Kuras originally chose Rutgers over UB because of the reputation of the school and its academic programs. Rutgers also had an equine program.
But she only competed at Rutgers for one year. Prior to her sophomore season, she had surgery to fuse a joint in her left foot to help with her arthritis. Prior to her surgery, movement in the joint was so painful that Kuras couldn't walk without crutches at times.
Following the surgery, she redshirted her second season at Rutgers, sitting out four months and spending the rest of the year with workouts limited to 500-1,000 yards. Normal practices consist of 5,000-6,000 yards.
After the coaching change at Rutgers, Kuras decided to leave. Buffalo was her second choice out of high school, which made the decision of where to transfer easy.
"Coming out of high school, I just had a really good feeling that she could develop into a very fast swimmer," Bashor said. "She's tall, she's got a good stroke and you could really get an idea that she was a competitor right from the beginning."
The marriage between coach and athlete at UB turned out to be the perfect storm.
There are two thought processes when it comes to training for swimming: You either swim as many yards as you can to build as much endurance as possible, or you cut back on the yards and focus on technique.
With Kuras' arthritis, swimming thousands of yards would have only hurt her, so Bashor let her swim with the sprint group even though she was a mid-distance swimmer.
"I've had so many injuries that I couldn't just pile on the yardage," Kuras said. "So he put me into the sprint group even though I am more of a mid-distance swimmer and I was able to really focus and work on my stroke and get race strategies down, so that was just what I needed."
Bashor said Kuras was tentative when she first arrived in Buffalo because she didn't know how hard she could push her foot. She was still limited in some of the things she could do, particularly dry land workouts, which she had to substitute with workouts in the pool to take pressure off her foot.
But Bashor and the rest of the team got an idea early on of her capabilities.
"We do a bracket set [at practice] in the beginning of the year where it's kind of like a game and they race each other," Bashor said. "With that set we saw the competitor that she was and the times she was able to post during that bracket set and it was like, 'OK, it just needs a little bit of time for her training to catch up with her competitiveness and she's going to be really good.'"
Even so, Kuras' performance at her first MAC Championships in 2012 surprised Bashor. Kuras won the 200-yard individual medley (1:59.84), the 200-yard freestyle (1:46.3) and the 100-yard freestyle (48.9), setting UB records in all three.
"I didn't know she had that kind of speed in her," Bashor said.
Her accomplishments raised the bar for the future. Although she had been able to compete at a high level, she was returning from a year of less intense practices. Bashor saw potential for her to get even faster with a full year of practice under her belt.
She competed at the NCAA Championships in 2012, becoming the first female swimmerat Buffalo to ever do so. She swam there two more times, in 2013 and 2014, and finished 19thin the 100-yard freestyle in 2013. She missed out on qualifying for the finals of the 100-yard freestyle by .21 seconds this past March.
Kuras finished her career with her name in the record books seven times for the 100-yard freestyle, 200-yard freestyle, 200-yard individual medley, 400-yard medley relay, 200-yard freestyle relay, 400-yard freestyle relay and 800-yard freestyle relay. She was the fourth swimmer to win the MAC Outstanding Swimmer Award three times.
"I'm so thankful for the opportunity to take my abilities and go as far as I possibly could," Kuras said. "I just love the sport. I'm just grateful that I had the opportunity to continue doing it for as long as possible."
Kuras already has a bachelor's degree in psychology and is currently pursuing her graduate degree in school counseling. She has two years left in the program, and when she graduates she wants to work as a school counselor.