24 Hawkeyes to Watch: Emma Sougstad

Nov. 21, 2014

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Monday, Aug. 4, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2014-15 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.


IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa sophomore Emma Sougstad missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships by 0.2 of a second as a freshman in the 100-yard breaststroke.

Oddly, Sougstad wasn’t recruited as a breaststroker.

Sougstad grew up in Forest City, Iowa — a town of 4,000 in North Central Iowa. She started swimming at the age of 5, following in the footsteps of her brothers. When high school rolled around, her participation included making a 90-minute commute round trip to Mason City (Iowa) High School. Forest City didn’t have swimming.



“It made my love for swimming stronger,” said Sougstad. “I told myself if I drove 45 minutes, I might as well get in the pool, work hard, and make my time count.”

As a junior, Sougstad and two of her teammates began winter strength training with the Forest City football team. She says it was strange at first, but it helped in the end.

“We got our own rack, and the guys would stare at us,” said Sougstad. “It turned out that it was fun, and the football players became supportive and paid closer attention to how we were performing.

“The strength training gave me a lot more distance per stroke and a lot more confidence, too.”

“One of my big goals is to make the NCAA Championships. I missed it last year by 0.2 of a second, and I am ready to go and compete for it. It is frustrating because I was so close. It gave me more fuel to my fire to keep going.”
UI sophomore Emma Sougstad


UI head coach Marc Long saw Sougstad from a distance. Sougstad was a multi-sport athlete, competing in swimming, basketball, and was a district champion and state qualifier in track and field. She decided to continue swimming collegiately.

“She looked at Division III schools, where she could do multiple sports, but she committed to us and then blew up her senior year at state,” said Long. “That convinced her even more that was the right direction to go.”

Sougstad finished high school as a 10-time All-American and an 11-time all-state honoree. During her “blow up” senior season, she earned All-America recognition in the 200-yard individual medley, 100 butterfly, 50 and 100 freestyle, and 100 breaststroke.

Long recruited Sougstad as a butterfly/individual medley swimmer. By the time her first meet arrive in October of her freshman season, she was focusing on being a breaststroker.

“Her high school team had good breaststrokers,” said Long. “She had a good long-course time, but didn’t swim much short course. That made us excited because there was potential there.”

Sougstad wasn’t sure.

“At first I was like ‘Well…maybe not,'” she said. “I accepted the challenge, and it has been a whirlwind since.”

Sougstad was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week following her first collegiate action at Michigan, which was the beginning of a solid inaugural season. She just missed the “A” final at the Big Ten Championships in the 100-yard breaststroke, where she set the school record with a time of 1:00.90. She also swam the third-fastest time in program history in the 200 IM (2:01.41) and was a key member of Iowa’s relays.

“Emma did well at the end of the year, and we all thought there is much more potential,” said Long. “She started putting it together last summer. She has a different attitude and direction, and we feel she has the potential for exciting things down the road.”

The 2014 Phillips 66 Championships in August marked the beginning of a new approach for Sougstad. The results were promising.

“My attitude change was with my perspective,” said Sougstad. “Every day I decided that I won’t accept anything but my best effort. It has been good, and I am excited to see where it goes from here.”

Competing against some of the best swimmers in the country, Sougstad swam to a time of 31.49 in the preliminaries of the 50-meter breaststroke, narrowly missing the finals. She ended up finishing 14th overall. Her time was the 44th-best in the world.

“That was fun to watch,” said Long. “She stepped up against professionals and NCAA champions. She had no expectation but to win. She believed that and just missed making the finals. We know there is more in the tank, and that’s what we’re training for.”

Fast forward to the 2014-15 collegiate season and Sougstad has started where she left off. She has already posted a 1:01.28 in a dual at Minnesota in the 100-yard breaststroke, which led to her earning Big Ten Swimmer of the Week honors Nov. 4.

She wants to continue building for the Big Ten Championships and be swimming in late March at the NCAA Championships.

“One of my big goals is to make the NCAA Championships,” said Sougstad. “I missed it last year by 0.2 of a second, and I am ready to go and compete for it.

“It is frustrating because I was so close. It gave me more fuel to my fire to keep going.”

Long believes Sougstad has the talent and determination to take that next step.

“The sky is the limit,” he said. “We want her to win, and she’s training at the highest level to not only make NCAAs, but to be scoring at NCAAs. It isn’t just to be in the top-eight at the Big Ten Championships, but to win Big Tens.

“These are world-class-type goals with the Big Ten the way it is. She’s ready for the challenge, and we’re excited to work with her toward that. She’s rising in the breaststroke, but I think she’s going to have a great individual medley, butterfly, and sprint freestyle. I think there will be much more for her.”

This season, Sougstad isn’t going to let it come down to 0.2 of a second.