* Bud Denega feature courtesy of UW Athletics media relations

LARAMIE -- Lainee Jones effortlessly remembers her recruitment to the University of Wyoming. The senior recalls without hesitation her first encounter with swimming head coach Dave Denniston.   

“He told me that if I committed he would do a cartwheel in his wheelchair,” Jones said. “To have a coach want me so badly, what an honor that is. Anyone would want to be wanted that way.” 

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Jones stood as Denniston’s first recruit of his head coaching career. The two have grown together, respected one another, learned from one another and enjoyed a fruitful last four years.  

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Jones was still in diapers the first time she was placed in a pool. She doesn’t know where the idea or urge to be in the water originated from, she just knew she wanted it. 

And she was correct. 

“I was just floating in the deep end, and I loved it,” Jones said. “I just liked the feeling of being in the water and thought, ‘This is fun.’” 

Jones thrust herself into the competitive swimming landscape just a few short years after that day. She saw precipitous improvement throughout the early stages of her career, developing into a mid-distance freestyler and a butterflyer.  

Jones collected collegiate swimming offers from all over the country. She could have gone as far east as Virginia Tech or as far west as California.  

The Pueblo native elected to remain close to home because of that relationship that was cultivated with Denniston. Jones decided to be a foundational piece to Denniston’s vision of Wyoming swimming.  

“(The recruiting process) was team driven more than anything else,” Denniston said. “I wanted to shift the culture to recruiting positive people with high energy that felt like swimming was fun. She checked all those boxes immediately from the first time I talked to her.” 

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Jones has excelled in many different races in her Wyoming career. She resides in the top 10 in school history in the 100-yard butterfly, the 500-yard freestyle and her, as she put it, “Bread and butter,” the 200-yard freestyle.  

Her time of 1:48.37 in the 200 free is the fourth-fastest time ever swum in a brown a gold suit. Reaching that height took time, experimentation and strategy forming.  

The 200 free is a complex race. Sure, it’s not the 200-yard individual medley where four strokes are required. However, it’s one stroke and in any given race, one may see eight different swimmers with eight different approaches as to how to swim eight lengths of the pool.  

“It’s crazy, and it’s such a mental race because there are so many different ways to swim it,” Jones said. “You have some that go out hard and try to hang on. Some hang back and close strong. You have to swim your own race.” 

Having competed in the race for four years, Jones has developed her own method. She’ll sometimes go out a little quicker than normal and sometimes she’ll close a little stronger than normal.  

She embodies a play-it-by-ear approach.  

“It depends on my feel,” Jones said.  

Whatever feel that is, it’s worked. Jones is a two-time All-Mountain West Conference selection in the 200 free while also garnering the same honor as a member of the 800-yard freestyle relay. 

In addition to thriving in the 200 free, Jones has also developed into quite the strong anchor leg of any relay. She’s been the closer and relishes the opportunity to bring it home strong for the team.  

“I love relays,” Jones said. “Swimming is such an individual sport, and that’s what makes relays so fun. There’s just something about being the anchor. The girls have worked so hard in front of me, and I just want to bring it home for them. It’s stressful, but it’s the good kind of racing nerves.” 

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There’s no questioning Jones’ positive reverberations within Wyoming swimming over her four-year career. She arrived in Laramie as the prized first recruit of Denniston and has blossomed into an exemplary student-athlete that takes as much pride in what she does in the pool as to what she does out of it.  

“If I could get 20 Lainee Joneses on this team, we would be pretty unstoppable on a national level,” Denniston said. “She’s the type of person you want for the fact that she’s used this time here as a student-athlete to get the education and prepare her for the rest of her life in a really good way.  

“Ultimately, that’s what I want out of every athlete.” 

Jones harkens back to that first lunch with her family and Denniston in Colorado Springs. It was a get-to-know-the-athlete type of encounter and a few short years later has formed into a stronger-than-oak bond.  

“It’s been wonderful,” Jones said. “I’m very grateful for the relationship I developed with him from the little swimmer gathering all the info I could to now having a friendship-level relationship for what he’s done for me as a swimmer and a person.” 

The person portion of Jones is attaining two undergraduate degrees – one in environmental systems science and another in natural resources. She has plans of attending law school after the spring semester with future dreams of fighting environmental injustices in the court room.  

For the time being, however, Jones will continue to lead, tweak her race strategy and make one final push at the MWC podium. She loves the water and loves to compete, and she’s going to relish the time she has remaining as a Cowgirl swimmer.

'The Governor' Logan Wilson