Like any college athlete, Madison Burns was excited to embark on her swimming career at the University of North Carolina.
She looked forward to starting a new chapter in her life and her swimming career. And, as much as anything, she couldn't wait to be part of a team.
Growing up, she had been part of youth teams and swam for club teams such as the Parkland Aquatic Club. But Northwestern Lehigh High School does not have a swim team, so other than some summer leagues, Burns missed out on the dual-meet experience that most swimmers get used to before college.
"I never had a team atmosphere where you just do it for the team," Burns said. "I really like it. You're not just swimming for yourself. It's all about the team."
Burns, a freshman, recently completed her first regular season at North Carolina. She and her Tar Heel teammates left for Greensboro, NC, Tuesday for the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships, which began Wednesday.
Burns headed to UNC as an accomplished swimmer. In her one season of high school swimming, she set two district records, one state record and took home a pair of state gold medals. As a club swimmer, she earned her way to the top meets in the country. She even qualified for last year's Olympic Trials.
Her success continued in her first season with the Tar Heels. She was the team's second-fastest swimmer in the 100-yard breaststroke at 1:03.58. And the third-best in three other events 200 individual medley (2:01.72), 400 individual medley (4:15.81) and 200 breaststroke (2:18.05).
At the ACC Championships Burns will swim the 200 and 400 IM as well as the 200 breaststroke. Her goals are to go 4:14 or faster in the 400 IM, under two minutes in the 200 IM and 2:16 or better in the 200 breaststroke.
She wants to get those times not only for herself, but also for her Tar Heel teammates.
"I'm really excited," she said. "I'm also nervous. There's a lot more pressure. It's not just for my times, but for the team."
Burns has a shot to qualify for the NCAA Championships if she swims fast enough. Her IM times are close to the national qualifying standards.
"I could qualify if I do extremely well," Burns said. "We'll see."
The Tar Heels have gone 5-2 overall in dual meets and 3-1 in ACC duals, losing only to Virginia, the 11th-ranked team in the nation. The Heels head into the ACC Meet hoping to avenge that loss to the Cavaliers and take home the team title.
Burns would love to help her team win a conference title. She's enjoying being part of a team as much as she expected to when she signed on with the Heels as a high school senior.
She embraces the team camaraderie and group activities. The whole squad recently held a progressive dinner. Swimmers from each class made one course of a meal and the team went from house to house, having a different course at each. It started with the sophomores' appetizers and ended with the senior-made dessert. Burns and her freshmen classmates provided utensils, cups, dishes and drinks.
During the night the teammates discussed the season, how it had developed since its first practice in fall. They discussed each other's individual seasons and provided positive feedback to one another. They also made Valentine's Day cards to be given out at a home for the elderly.
It's exactly what Burns was looking for – a team she could share experiences with as well as other swimmers helping her become an even better swimmer. And she found just that.
"Its definitely everything I expected," Burns said.