03/14/09 — Chenier headed to "sprint mecca"

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Chenier headed to "sprint mecca"

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 14, 2009 11:32 PM

Who would turn down a chance to churn through the waters where former and current Olympians have trained?

Mason Chenier certainly wasn't about to say "no."

Now he's headed to the "sprint mecca of the world" -- Auburn University. The Eastern Wayne senior signed a national letter-of-intent with the Tigers, who recently claimed yet another Southeastern Conference championship.

"I wasn't sure where I wanted to go," said Chenier, who turned down offers from Florida State and North Carolina. "I was really looking for great team chemistry, great chemistry in the coaching staff and a coaching staff that really interested in the swimmers.

"(At Auburn) I absolutely fell in love with the team, the campus, the coaches ... everything just clicked."

Who could blame him?

Who oouldn't get hooked on the lure of swimming for one of the nation's premier college teams? The Tigers have five current Olympians on the squad, including Brazilian Cesar Ciela, who won gold medal in the 50 free and bronze in the 100 free last summer at the Beijing Games.

Chenier spent one evening with Ciela on his official recruiting visit.

"I called my parents the first night I was there and said I'm coming to Auburn," laughed Chenier. "They said 'don't commit yet. Come home and let's talk about it.'"

The elder Cheniers listened and agreed to Mason's decision.

Sprinters from around the world converge on Auburn, which has produced a great lineage of quality competitors. Chenier felt intimidated when speaking with several of the swimmers, but took comfort knowing he will work out daily among the world's elite.

Chenier has been recruited to swim the 50 and 100 free -- two events he dominated on the high school and YMCA scene. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder will graduate with an unprecedented six individual state titles -- records for the Eastern Wayne and Wayne County history books.

"The training will be a little more specialized, which is great," said Chenier, who could also swim the 100 butterfly. "It will be less yardage, but the training atmosphere is going to be intense. That's what I wanted.

"I wanted to be a small fish in a big pond, not a big fish in a little pond."

Chenier is also keeping alive a family tradition.

He is the fifth swimmer to sign with a Division I program. His mother and father both swam at Southern Methodist University. His sister (Megan) and brother (Michael), former state champions at Eastern Wayne, each continued their careers at the University of North Carolina.

"My parents always said you'll know which school you want to go to ... which one is right," said Chenier. "They've been real supportive in the whole process. I'm really excited to get down there."

Before Chenier reports to Auburn this summer to attend classes and begin training, he still has one meet left -- the Spring YMCA Nationals in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

He'll be shaved and tapered for the meet, which should help improve his times in the water.

Chenier has recorded several quality times at Y meets. He's looking forward to this one, since it will be his last.

Then, he'll live his dream.

"I know I'm not going to be anywhere near the top sprinter at Auburn, but there is always the chance I might explode in some other event," said Chenier. "They want me to bulk up to help my power and will plug me into a weight-training program.

"But honestly, I will do whatever they tell me to do."