Freshman Shelby Fortin is turning heads with her first-place finishes — at least one in five of the team’s six meets. Her speed and work ethic has allowed her to practice with the men’s team and is now counted on by her teammates.

Shelby Fortin is doing things that have never been done before by Penn female swimmers.

On her way to becoming one of the team’s stars, the freshman phenomenon has been so impressive that coach Mike Schnur often has her complete sets during practice that only swimmers on the men’s team have done before.

“She trains with our guys most of the time and trains at a very high level,” Schnur said. “She swims at a faster pace a lot of time in practice than most people in our league do at meets.”

Fortin seems like a normal freshman at first glance — going to classes, participating in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and squeezing in naps when she can.

She is, however, far from a typical Penn freshman. In addition to adjusting to a rigorous courseload and the newfound independence of college, Fortin has also had to make the jump to an intensified swimming regimen — which includes multiple practices each day and a difficult training plan.

Despite all these changes, Fortin has stayed grounded and kept her eyes on what is important for her and her team: winning.

“When it comes down to the end of the race, if it’s tight, I hate to lose,” she said.

Fortunately for her, she doesn’t lose often. In her first-ever college meet against Connecticut, Fortin — who swims freestyle and backstroke — won three events. Since then, she has recorded at least one first-place finish in five out of six meets.

At the Kenyon Invitational in early December, she notched Penn’s only first-place finishes, despite swimming against five other schools.

Speaking of other schools, Fortin was heavily recruited in the Ivy League but ended up choosing Penn over Yale and Dartmouth because of what Schnur could offer her.

Schnur says he first talked to Fortin at the end of her junior year of high school and was impressed by her obvious love of swimming.

“We knew how fast she was,” he said. “She was a kid that was going to be a great swimmer, and she improved a ton as a senior in high school. We knew what was coming.”

Fortin said Penn was the right choice because she and Schnur had similar goals, and he knew how to train her and make her swim her fastest.

“Out of all the coaches I talked to, he was the most promising,” she said.

Fortin added that her biggest strength is her competitiveness and perseverance.

“I enjoy being challenged both in and out of the pool, and if I can’t do something as well as I would like the first time, I will keep trying until I succeed,” she said.

Her determination will certainly help as she looks to make it to the Olympic trials in 2012. Last summer, she missed out in a qualifying event by a tenth of a second, but Schnur says that Fortin has no limits and has a good chance to “score” at trials in the near future.

While Fortin has many personal goals, her team and their goals are extremely important to her and her success. When she doesn’t push herself hard enough in practice, her teammates pick her up and help her push through.

It’s only fair, then, that Fortin returns that favor with big-time performances at meets.

Senior Sarah Ernst said Fortin brings a “likely win” whenever she swims, which will be vital for team success when Penn enters its final home meet of the season Friday against West Chester, a top Division II team.

The seniors, who have had more than 800 practices in their home pool, are hoping for one final win at home.

“It should be a good competition,” Ernst said. “I hope everyone will relax, have fun, race hard and have the seniors enjoy their last hurrah.”

As the seniors’ final season begins to wind down, Fortin’s career is just beginning.

And based on her freshman season and the hopes and expectations that she and Schnur share, Fortin certainly has the potential to accomplish things that few Penn swimmers have ever done before.

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