Their biggest meet may still be months away, but the Quakers will finally have a chance to get their feet wet this weekend.
The Penn swimming season will get underway when the women head to New York to face Columbia on Friday before heading to Baltimore, where they will be joined by the men's team, as both squads face off against UMBC on Saturday.
Both teams are coming off fourth-place finishes in last year's Ivy championships. Coach Mike Schnur, a Penn alum entering his 16th year as head coach and 28th year with the program, enters the season with one goal and one goal only:
"We want to finish as high as we can at the Ivy Championship meet," coach said. "Dual meets don't matter. The order of finish doesn't mean anything. The Ivy champion is crowned at the meets in February. That's where you have to be good. If you go 0-7 in dual meets, but you win the Ivy meet, you're the Ivy champion, and it doesn't matter what your dual meet [results] are."
That being said, the coach is still excited for this weekend's action, even if he's not too preoccupied with the final results.
"Columbia, that's an Ivy meet. It's a really good rival for us," he said. "UMBC has some real good international kids that I'm excited to see."
Although UMBC is outside of the Ancient Eight, its roster is not entirely unfamiliar to the Red and Blue. During Penn's 10-day training trip in Boca Raton, Fla., over winter break, the team trains jointly with the Retrievers for one practice each year — a talent exchange of sorts.
"They have the best swimmer we'll compete against all season," Schnur said. "Emily Escobedo, their breaststroker, is an All-American. We won't touch a breaststroker better than her all season. There's no one in our league at her level. So it'll be fun for our breaststrokers to race her."
But the Red and Blue have some elite swimmers as well, especially on the men's side.
"We have Chris Swanson, who can win all his races," Schnur said. "And we have Eric Schultz, who WILL win all of his races. We have a great breaststroke group. We have an amazing 200 [Individual Medley] group. We're going to have some great races."
Perhaps that's why the coach had some particularly high aspirations for the men's team this year.
"The men's team has goals of making NCAAs, winning Ivies, [reaching finals] at Olympic trials this summer."
Unlike sports such as basketball and football, there is no playbook to memorize or system to get familiar with — all that matters is what you're able to do once the race official says "take your mark." But that doesn't mean it's easy to get back into the swing of competition.
"You always wonder, your first meet or two, how they're gonna respond, going from training to racing," Schnur said, noting that the team has been racing a good amount in practice. "Hopefully they won't make a lot of the little mistakes you make when you haven't been racing much, like turns, and other things you sometimes kind of let go in practice. But I think the whole concept of racing is really exciting."
Schnur isn't exactly sure what to expect this weekend. Perhaps that's why he isn't letting himself get too emotionally invested in the outcome.
"Your first meet of the year usually goes one way or the other. You're either really, really good, or really bad."
And the Quakers are hoping that it won't be the latter.
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