Traditions are funny. Teams often start their seasons against the same opponent every year, and sometimes without good reason.
But Penn swimming is breaking the mold with their first meet this year — and breaking out of their comfort zone in the process.
For virtually as long as time itself, the Quakers have started their season with a dual meet against Columbia. Five or 10 years ago, this meet was a staple of their schedule: a fierce, competitive and often heated kick-start against a close rival. Recently, however, the Lions have fallen off the pace as their rivals surged forward as a program. Penn saw this trend and decided it was time to make a change.
“When I was a freshman, the Columbia meet was always super intense,” junior Carolyn Yang said. “That’s why it was so surprising when we won every event. When we were freshmen, it was us and Columbia, super close, fighting for fourth place [in the Ivy League]. Now we’re at the place where it’s not like we don’t need to worry about them, but they aren’t as competitive anymore. Now we’re actually breaking into the top three.”
This year, Penn will face off in a tri-meet with Columbia and Army in order to revitalize the intensity of the first meet of its season. Army has a formidable swimming program, and the extra competition should make the Quakers work harder for their first competitive races of the school year.
“I like tri-meets: more competition, more teams to race,” coach Mike Schnur said. “And Army has a great team. They have a pretty good women’s team, but they have a very good men’s team. It’ll be a good opening meet. ... We’re going to be racing against kids that are worthy of respect.”
But it isn’t just any high-caliber opposition that Schnur sought out when planning the meet. Army’s status as a military service academy played a huge role for the coach in deciding who his team’s third opponent should be.
"I wanted to expose our kids to West Point,” he said. “I thought it’d be kind of a nice, historical afternoon to show them around the academy, to see the statues and the cemetery, to appreciate what our military does for America. I thought it’d be a nice educational opportunity for our team.”
Schnur, a known admirer of General George Patton, has always been keen on booking a trip to the Academy as a chance to show his athletes the discipline and the sacrifice of members of the armed forces. In previous years, he has even made the team watch the movie Patton on the way back from meets, according to one swimmer.
The coach has also been heard quoting from that movie, a testament to his respect for America’s military history. It would only make sense, then, that he decided to take the team down to West Point for the competition and its context.
As for the races itself, much is up in the air, according to Schnur, regarding who will race well and who could surprise him. A lot of the expectations depend on the results from the team’s warmup inter-squad meet this weekend. One thing the coach is sure of, though, is that the men’s side of the team will have a very familiar cast of faces near the top of the scoresheet — besides graduated swimming legend Chris Swanson, of course.
And with returning team record-holding athletes like sophomore Mark Andrew, junior C.J. Schaffer and senior Grant Proctor, you can probably expect to see decent results at the end of the meet, despite the new and increased level of competition.