The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Kiana Swain: “Truly a Coug”

A great swimmer and a better person
Freshman Kiana Swain earned 15 points in the swim meet against the University of Utah on Jan. 15, 2021 in Gibb Pool.

Sometimes all it takes is one moment to prove yourself, to yourself. For senior Coug swimmer Kiana Swain, winning a race against one of the boys at school in her home country of New Zealand proved her skill to herself and her family.

Swain has been a swimmer all her life – being surrounded by water in New Zealand she was placed in swim lessons starting at 4 years old. Initially just learning to swim for safety became a passion, as she began to compete in and win school competitions, leading to a true love for the sport. 

“Around 12 [years old] is when I entered club swimming and yeah, I just fell in love with competing. Yeah, I was good,” Swain said.

Elite in the pool from a young age, Swain went to her first nationals at just 13 years old, which drew the attention of a fellow New Zealander coaching at WSU at the time. It was her that piqued Swain’s interest in competing overseas.

“She was like ‘Hey, I know she’s 13, she’s still young, but she has the opportunity to come and swim in America,” and that kind of sparked the idea. Ever since then, from 13, I knew I wanted to swim in America,” Swain said.

The progression only continued as she made her first junior New Zealand team at the age of 14, instilling confidence in herself that she could compete at a national level, she said. She began to look into Universities at 16 years old, with her sights set on competing in the US.

Swain has racked up plenty of hardware for herself as well, winning silver medals in the 100 and 200-yard butterfly at the Victoria Age Group Championships in 2018 and winning the 200-yard butterfly at the 2019 New Zealand Swimming Championships.

She spoke to many schools, but kept coming back to WSU, she said. She continued to hear about how special Pullman was, how great the team culture was and the deep friendships the entire team possessed.

“I didn’t have that on my club team. We didn’t have that supportive environment and I really, really wanted that in my future college I was gonna go to,” Swain said. “When I did get here the assistant coach that initially was talking to me had lost her job because of COVID. But I trusted her and I knew I could still call this place home without her.”

The process was grueling for Swain, who came to Pullman as a freshman in 2020 at the peak of the pandemic. The timing created several issues. She had to do all her visits virtually, and just getting her VISA was a struggle with the embassies closed at the time. Even just trying to find a flight to the US proved challenging, but she stayed committed, WSU head coach Matt Leach said.

“When COVID was happening, she couldn’t go home. You had to pay for the isolation so she literally couldn’t go home for a long time. So I’m really proud of her for staying committed to saying I want to be included and making it the best journey she could based on the circumstances,” Leach said.

In her fourth year at WSU, Swain recorded the 3rd fastest 200-yard backstroke time in school history at 1:56.52 and the fourth fastest 100-yard backstroke at 54.22, both of which she set at the 2024 Pac-12 Championships. Over her career as a Coug, she has had to make the switch from butterfly to backstroke due to injuries, Leach said, but as her spot in the record book shows, she has flourished in her new role, finishing top three in the 200 back several times in the last two seasons and recording two first-place finishes.

Swain’s biggest strength that the WSU coaching staff noticed right away was her underwater kicking, Leach said, but despite her skill and success in the pool, she is an even better person and a harder worker.

“Kiana has been such a great addition here. Someone that comes every day and works and then when she’s not working or it’s a lighter day or we tell her to back off she’ll feel like she’s not doing enough. So no matter what, you get 100% out of her, and that’s been from day one,” Leach said. “A really great teammate, someone that puts her team first… She’s just such a good person. We’re gonna miss her for her swimming but also for her leadership. She’s always welcome here.”

Originally from New Zealand, Swain competes for more than just to win, she competes for the flag of her home country hung from the bleachers over Gibb Pool.

“Seeing my flag, it just reminds me, kind of puts into perspective how far I’ve come. It can be hard being so hard on yourself when you’re racing and then just seeing the flag always just reminds me like ‘Oh my god, I’m in America,’” Swain said. Like I hear the US national anthem play and I just take pride in how far I’ve come traveling over 30 hours to get here. Going back home is nice, but I’m glad I decided to take this opportunity.”

A multiple-time Pac-12 academic honor roll recipient as a psychology major, Swain already possessed the necessary management and organizational skills to balance school, swimming and life thanks to her lifestyle in New Zealand and the support of her trainers, coaches and friends, she said.

That ability and commitment is evident to the coaching staff as well, Leach said. 

“When it comes to grades I never have to worry about her, on a weekend any of that stuff. [Swain is] A great person first, and that’s grown and spread to our family. Each and every year [Swain] has gotten better and stronger as she’s become more of a leader without having a title.”

Leach described Swain as “always smiling, outgoing and bubbly,” but someone who leads by example. True to form, on race day she can be found having a banana, going to treatment to get loose and listening to some chill indie music to keep the heart rate down and stress at bay, she said. 

When she is not competing or studying, which is not often, she finds herself going out to team dinners and doing activities like movie nights for team building, she said. She also likes to get out and go to Starbucks or Target, go into nature, read and try little cafes around Pullman.

The memories made at WSU will be with her forever, from her favorites like beating Utah in her final duel in Gibb Pool after losing to them in her first-ever home duel, to the countless friends she’s made at Wazzu, on other teams and internationally.

After finishing strong at the Pac-12 Championships, Swain is not ready to exit the pool anytime soon.

“I definitely want to keep swimming, I can’t imagine my life without it right now. So since I still love it so much I want to keep swimming when I go home,” Swain said. “It’s different because we have meters, not yards. I don’t want to put pressure on myself to be back at the top where I was before I came back here, but I still love the sport so much. Then I also plan to apply for my master’s in psychology and continue my career.”

Her time at WSU may be ending, but Swain is the kind of person who will “finish the right way and leave this place putting it all in the pool, knowing there’s nothing left,” Leach said. Even when she returns to New Zealand, and anywhere else her journey takes her, Cougs always find their way back home.

“When she does want to come back, we’ll welcome her with open arms,” Leach said. “So,  you know, when I think of someone that is truly a Coug and knows what it means to be a Coug, I think of Kiana Swain.”

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About the Contributor
LUKE WESTFALL, Evergreen sports co-editor
Luke Westfall is a junior in Broadcast News from Custer, WA. He is an avid fanatic of the many sports at many levels who spends all his available time indulging in them. Luke began working at the Evergreen in Spring 2022.