In a season defined by dominant veteran performances, Penn swimming’s youth movement made a mark of its own over the weekend.
35 days after their last competition, the Quakers kicked off the new year in earnest, hosting Ivy League opponents Dartmouth and Yale in a conference tri-meet just four days after returning from 10 days of intense training in Boca Raton, Fla.
At last year’s Ivy Championship meet, the Elis (7-1, 4-1 Ivy) narrowly bested the Quakers. On Saturday, the Penn men’s team flipped the script, capturing nine event wins and defeating the Bulldogs, 178-122. The Red and Blue were similarly dominant against Dartmouth (0-4, 0-4), winning 227-71.
The results on the women’s side were more lopsided, as Yale (6-0, 5-0) bested Penn, 195-105, and the Quakers easily handled Dartmouth (0-4, 0-4), 234-66.
Despite the successful efforts on behalf of the Quakers, the meet started on a somber tone. Before the singing of the national anthem, a moment of silence was held for Dartmouth swimmer Tate Ramsden who passed away while on vacation with his family in Sarasota, Fla., on Dec. 26.
One triumph of note was freshman Thomas Dillinger’s victory in the 200-yard individual medley, the first individual win of his career. In finishing less than half a second shy of the pool record, held by fellow freshman Mark Andrew, Dillinger contributed to a successful day for the men’s team. Dillinger continued to impress throughout the meet, propelling Penn to a win in the 400 free relay.
Coach Mike Schnur was encouraged by the strong performance of his young swimmers.
“I know that there’s no one on their team that can beat Thomas. We know that Thomas and Mark are going to win their races every time,” he said. “They are two of the three best 200 IM-ers in our league, and it’s really fun to watch their development as freshmen.”
Not to be outdone by their upstart teammates, senior co-captains Chris Swanson and Eric Schultz continued to blow away the competition. Swanson particularly impressed in the 1,000 free, shattering the 36-year-old pool record of 9:13.86 set by former Harvard swimmer and Olympic silver medalist Bobby Hackett with a time of 9:11.41.
Schnur was elated by the performance, having reclaimed Penn’s place in the record books after 36 years.
“For this time of year, Chris’s swim was especially impressive. Ordinarily, the work that the distance crew does before the new year beats them up. Usually, they’re not as fast,” Schnur said.
“We’ve been trying to break that record for four years and the great thing about that event was that we had the top five distance swimmers in the league battling it out.”
Schultz added to the accolades, picking up two individual victories in the 50 and 100 free along with anchoring the Red and Blue’s two relay wins. Senior Kyle Yu and juniors Michael Wen and Kevin Su rounded out the first-place finishes for the men’s team in the 100 breaststroke, 100 butterfly and 200 freestyle, respectively.
These strong showings against a talented Yale team can be attributed to the Quakers’ winter trip to Florida. The teams trained through 18 vigorous practices in 10 days in the Sunshine State and returned to campus in prime physical condition. Posting fast times after such a long period of near-constant practices, however, left many swimmers feeling drained coming into the weekend’s meet.
On the women’s side, sophomore Virginia Burns failed to record an individual victory, a rare occurrence for the talented underclassman. The defending Ivy League champion in the 500 freestyle fell short to Yale’s Eva Fabian, the 2015 Pan-American champion in the 10-kilometer open water race.
Schnur, however, doesn’t blame the loss on fatigue, instead pointing to the quality of the competition as a crucial factor.
“The Yale distance group is stupendous this year and is one of the two best in the league,” he said. “The swimmers in these heats rank among the top five or six in the conference. It was a nice preview what we’re going to see [at the Ivy League Championships].”
Penn, despite the challenge posed by the Bulldogs, did not go down without a fight. Junior Rochelle Dong was once again a model of consistency, picking up titles in 100 fly, 50 free and 400 free relay. Freshman Nancy Hu excelled in the 200 fly, taking the top spot with a time of 2:01.79.
The Quakers won’t have the luxury of another full month to prepare for their next contest. In a week, they travel to Cambridge for their final Ivy tri-meet against Brown and Harvard.
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