This weekend, the Penn women's swimming team finished better than last place at the Ivy League championship meet for the first time in nine years. The Quakers' sixth-place finish capped a year in which they came closer to finishing above .500 in the Ancient Eight (3-4) than they have since 1990. And over the weekend, the Red and Blue broke nine school records. The credit for this upswing has to go to Penn's swimmers, but also to the leader of the program, head coach Mike Schnur. A year ago, I wrote that Schnur, then the interim coach, should not be the full-time coach. I argued that Penn needed an outsider to help break a dismal tradition of losing, and that Schnur, a Penn man through and through, could not possibly be the man for the challenge. I was wrong. Schnur has shown himself to be a man with a plan, and has earned Ivy League Coach of the Year honors. Boy, was I wrong. The reason that Schnur has been successful is because he has changed the atmosphere of the Penn swimming program. Two years ago, after completing a sixth consecutive winless season and finishing dead last at the Ivy League meet, the Quakers were far from disappointed. Rather, they were happy to have broken three school records at the meet. Now, things are different. "There's pressure that I put on myself and the women put on themselves," Schnur said. "Four or five years ago, they put no pressure on themselves and didn't improve. If you don't want pressure, you shouldn't be in sports." That's certainly a new attitude at Sheerr Pool, and one that has allowed this year's Quakers seniors to go out on a high note after surviving through the end of the dark ages of Penn women's swimming. "It's great -- I've never been happier for three people," Schnur said of the seniors. "When they were seniors in high school and we were one of the worst programs in America, they never expected to be this good. It's been a great ride for them." As time goes by, there is now no reason to believe that this team will not be able to improve, as Schnur has also worked very hard to recruit swimmers who might not catch the eye of other Ivy League coaches. "Not everybody in our freshman class was heavily recruited," Schnur said. "Some people swam unbelievably well after other coaches didn't want them, and some of [the swimming] was to show other coaches how foolish they were not to recruit them as I did." Still, success won't come easily for the Red and Blue. Penn's 258.5 points at this year's Ivy League meet was the best score in team history, but the Quakers still finished over 600 points behind Princeton and 500 behind Brown. It would be callow to think that Penn could make up that kind of difference by next season. Schnur, to his credit, is well aware of the difficulty in building a program, and has a realistic vision for the future. "We're not going to catch Princeton in one year," Schnur said. "It's going to take at least five. Princeton and Brown have been good for a long time.... You try to move up one year at a time. The challenge next year will be Columbia. Then Harvard, Yale, and move up." For years, the Quakers showed no signs of moving up. Suggesting a five-year plan for an Ivy League title would have seemed silly at best. Now, though, Schnur makes it seem believable, even to me, the last naysayer. The Quakers have never won the Ivy League title. In fact, they've never even been close. With Schnur at the helm, it is now conceivable that they will be a contender sooner rather than later.Comments powered by Disqus
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