Not many things in this world get better with age, but don’t tell that to Penn men’s swimming's senior captains.
Over the last three seasons, Eric Schultz and Chris Swanson have won countless races and championships, including a combined eight individual Ivy titles. They’ve broken dozens of school and conference records. The two are without a doubt a couple of the best swimmers to ever come through Penn’s program, as well as the Ancient Eight.
They each have also had the unique opportunity to compete at the highest level of college swimming: the NCAA Division I Championships.
Schultz, who made his first appearance at NCAA’s last season, and Swanson, who has qualified in each of his three years with the team, took a lot away from competing against the best swimmers in the country, some of whom may be future Olympians.
“It makes you humble. Going there, you realize where you are compared to the big programs in the country,” Schultz said. “I became humble with my talent and where I was. You can be really, really good in the Ivy League but at NCAA’s the big clubs just kill you. It was an eye-opening experience in that regard.”
Coach Mike Schnur says that what the two swimmers learned at NCAA’s goes beyond the pool.
“What they bring back is a desire to do better,” he said. “For Chris, the desire is to be an NCAA champion. For Eric, the desire is to make All-American. So, it makes them a little hungrier. And that’s a great thing.”
As two of the leaders this season, both swimmers have lofty expectations for their team. They see tremendous talent down the entire roster and hope this is the season that the Quakers can break through and win a conference title. If the team can achieve that goal, it would be the first Ivy Championship for the Red and Blue since 1971. Implementing the work ethic of swimmers at NCAAs might be a good first step.
“Nationals taught me what you have to do to get to that level. It’s incredibly difficult,” Swanson said. “I think we can bring that back to the pool and try to get as many guys to that meet as possible. We have a really talented team so I think we can get six or seven guys to make it next year, which would be really impressive.
“I would also like to see us perform better at Ivy’s than we did last year or two years ago, try to beat one of the two top teams, Harvard and Princeton.”
Schnur thinks the lessons from nationals may trickle through the rest of the team as well.
“They bring the idea that Penn swimmers can go to NCAA's. That Penn swimmers can be All-Americans. That Penn swimmers can make the U.S. Olympic team. I think the other guys see what they’ve accomplished and say ‘I want to get a little piece of that too.'”
Despite the expectations they have for themselves and their team, Swanson and Schultz don’t seem to mind the pressure.
“I think the pressure is fun,” Schultz said. “I’m taking a new approach to this season. In the past, I may have been thinking more about individual times, but this year I want to have more fun with it. And it helps take the pressure off when you have eight senior guys who can spread the leadership around.”
“It’s one more year of something that I’ve been doing since I was nine or 10,” he said. “The last three years on this team and going into the fourth have shown me how special it is to be on a team like this. You really have 30-something brothers who all really want to work towards the same goal. It’s been a lot of fun and something I’m really glad to have been a part of.”
At the end of the day, the careers of the pair of seniors will be defined by more than what they accomplish in the pool.
“What they mean is a lot more than just how fast they go and a lot more than the points they get and the championships they win and the NCAA qualifying. What they do is show the rest of the guys how to live their lives correctly,” said Schnur.
“Eric and Chris do everything right, every day. They are the kind of role model you’d want your son to be like, and the two of them are exactly what we want to represent our program. They are the ideal student-athletes.”
As the season begins, look for these two to continue their success, and maybe even get better.
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