South African swimmer Ali Basel prepares for senior year at Iowa State


Lyn Keren/Iowa State Daily

Then-freshman Ali Basel swims the butterfly in the Women’s 200 M. Iowa State Swim and Dive hosted the Alumni Cardinal and Gold meet Sept. 30, 2016.

Megan Teske

Ali Basel came to the United States from South Africa without her parents and overcame shoulder surgery her sophomore year. Now a senior, Basel is looking to help lead her team in what she calls a “comeback season.”

Basel had been dreaming of coming to swim and study in the United States since she was in ninth grade. After being recruited by Iowa State from her club team based in Johannesburg, South Africa, her dream became a reality a mere three years ago. Basel now swims the mid-distance freestyle as well as the 200 individual medley and as she looks forward to the season ahead, she hopes to help her team secure a spot in the top three at the Big 12 Championship.

“We don’t really have a college structure at home,” Basel said. “If I wanted to go to university and swim, I would have to do swimming on my own time with a club.”

For Basel, that wasn’t an option. She said she wanted to swim and study at the same time, and she believed the NCAA system was one of the best around, so she decided to put herself on a recruiting website.

That website was where assistant coach Kelly Nordell, who is also the lead recruiter for the team, first saw her. 

“[Basel’s] coach Peter Williams swam at Nebraska, so I was connected to Peter,” Nordell said. “Duane [Sorenson] had some South Africans here previously so we’ve had good results and good relationships with them and from there, that’s how it all started.”

Basel said making the move from South Africa to the United States wasn’t too difficult. Similar to the United States, Basel said South Africa has a fairly western culture, so in terms of adjusting to her new country, it wasn’t too different — apart from having to learn which side of the road to drive on.

Although she had to overcome a shoulder injury after her sophomore season, Basel said her biggest accomplishment was making it the United States to swim and study. 

“It’s so competitive; 15-year-old me was very determined to get this goal,” Basel said. “It was a huge accomplishment for me when I was able to continue swimming and studying.”

Her coaches said otherwise. Head coach Duane Sorenson said he thinks Basel’s biggest accomplishment was overcoming her surgery after her sophomore year, and Nordell agreed.

“She was very resilient coming back,” Sorenson said. “The surgery is always ‘she may not come back, she may not ever swim again.’”

Basel’s coaches said she has also taken on more of a leadership role this season and is a great team player, and they are looking forward to seeing her improve her times and leadership this season.

“We’re looking for her leadership,” Sorenson said. “She’s very intelligent, she has a good head on her shoulders. Using that as a senior leader and being a good voice for that.”

Basel said this new leadership role is going to be a different experience for her. She wants to be a “good senior” like those she knew her freshman year.

“It’s being a person who’s a role model for other people,” Basel said. “But not a scary person either; there’s a fine line between enforcing rules and not being ugly about it — you still want the team to have fun.”

As a team, Basel said the Cyclones have a team word of “empower” to empower others on the team as well as themselves. She hopes they have their comeback season this year, because last year she said the team was disappointed with its performance.

Individually, Basel wants to place in the top three, as well as get her personal records and best times.

“You’re always striving to be better,” Basel said.