After a string of strong performances on the East Coast, Penn swimming and diving has made itself a national force.
Both the men’s and women’s teams traveled to Gambier, Ohio, for their final meet of 2016: the Total Performance Invitational at Kenyon College. Over the course of the three-day meet, both teams cruised to first-place finishes, blowing out the closest competition.
A major objective for these three nights was to make NCAAs, and after a set of elite performances, some individuals have already qualified.
The opening night had various highlights from the two teams. In the 200-yard medley relay for men, the Quakers swept the first two spots. The team of senior Jimmy Jameson, junior CJ Schaffer and sophomores Colin McHugh and Thomas Dillinger set a new pool record at the James A. Steen Aquatic Center, coming in first at 1:27.54. Sophomore Mark Blinstrub, along with seniors Wes Thomas, Michael Wen and Zach Fisher finished less than a second behind at 1:28.29.
In the 1,650 freestyle, juniors Alex Peterson and Taylor Uselis were both able to make the NCAA ‘B’ cut. Peterson finished the race second with a time of 15:05.52, while Uselis ranked fourth at 15:24.91.
For the women, the 800 free relay team of senior Ellie Grimes, junior Virginia Burns, sophomore Mary Whiting and freshman Meredith Newman set a new pool record with a time of 7:18.18, more than two seconds better than the previous mark.
Both the men’s and women’s team had leads north of 100 points when the night concluded.
The second night helped further set Penn’s lead with impressive starts from both sides. The squad consisting of senior captain Rochelle Dong, juniors Kim Phan and Burns and freshman Wendy Yang established a new school record in the 200 free relay with a rapid time of 1:31.49, breaking a Penn record set in 2014.
On the men’s team, Fisher, Jameson, Dillinger and senior Kevin Su commenced the night with a first-place finish in the 200 free relay, clocking in at 1:19.88.
“I really enjoyed seeing how the team worked and hustled together during relays,” Penn coach Mike Schnur said. “They were hungry for the win and extremely motivated.”
The third and final night, similar to the previous two, showed how prepared and explosive the Red and Blue are in the water. The Quakers were able to sweep the top two to three positions in several events.
Jameson, freshman Emilio DeSomma and sophomore Mark Blinstrub successfully qualified for an NCAA ‘B’ cut after the sweeping the first three places in the 100 butterfly.
Senior Grant Proctor followed that up with a dominant performance in the 200 backstroke, breaking his own pool and school records for a first-place finish. The senior finished with a time of 1:43.73, simultaneously qualifying for an NCAA ‘B’ cut and besting the record he set last year.
“I use this meet as a stepping stone toward Ivies, and I knew that I needed to be able to get my time down in order to compete with the top guys in the league,” he said. “So for me to be able to put up my best time really encourages me for the end of February, beginning of March, when we go to Ivy Championships that I’ll be right at the top of the field.”
The women’s team swept the top three in the 500 free led by Virginia Burns who set a pool record with a time of 4:48.68. Freshman Grace Ferry came in second at 4:52.77, followed by Madison Visco in third.
Following Ohio, the Quakers take an extended rest, not competing for over a month, though they will head to Florida over winter break to train.
“In these next two or three weeks is the real difference between a team that wants to win an Ivy championship and a team that is OK getting second or third,” Proctor explained.
Both teams return to action on Jan. 7 for their second Ivy League tri-meets of the season.
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