Days after Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton fervently competed for the hearts and minds of Pennsylvanians, Penn and Villanova swimmers will battle for in-state bragging rights of their own.
Both the men’s and women’s teams will travel to Villanova for a non-conference matchup against the Wildcats. The Quakers enter the weekend after a successful tri-meet in which the women defeated both Columbia and Army while their male counterparts trounced the Black Knights but fell by just four points to their Ivy League rivals from the Big Apple.
The opening set of races saw a number of standout performances, as, on the women’s side, Virginia Burns racked up three individual first-place finishes, cementing her reputation as one of the country’s best freestyle swimmers. In one of the most impressive swims of the day, the junior finished a full second ahead of Columbia’s Jessica Antiles in the 200-yard freestyle, recording a time of 1:51.37. Senior captain Rochelle Dong, junior Annie Tran and freshman Serena Xue added to Burns’ dominance in the sprints with victories of their own. And the Quakers also swept the relays, as Dong, looking to retain her All-Ivy status, anchored both teams.
Villanova, however, is a completely different beast.
“The women’s team is very good,” Penn coach Mike Schnur said. “They’re very talented, very well coached, they’re Big East champions. Fully funded, tons of scholarships. They do everything right. They’re at home, they want to get revenge from last year, and to do it while we’ve got some injury problems.”
Attempting to defeat the Wildcats without ailing sophomore and butterfly standout Nancy Hu, who set a Penn record in the 200-yard edition of the event, will indeed be a difficult task. To add insult to the literal injury, Villanova’s women’s team features four stellar swimmers spread over a variety of events. Sophomore Alexa Fabbri was just named Big East Swimming and Diving Athlete of the Week while her fellow sophomore Darby Goodwin is coming off a rookie season in which she won three Big East races and was named the conference championship’s Most Outstanding swimmer. Sophomore Taylor Wilson, an All-Big East honoree, presents, along with Fabbri, another threat to Burns in her signature freestyle events. And, to wrap up the Wildcats’ Fab Four, junior Caitlin Daday, a two-time All-Big East swimmer, has excelled thus far in the distance races.
Dong and her fellow swimmers, however, welcome the challenge.
“It’s kind of a toss-up meet for us in a good way,” she said. “We get to explore and bring along a lot of we people we don’t usually get to bring. Especially since the freshmen have only one meet under their belt, it’ll be a great experience for them to race in a dual-meet type of environment.”
The men, meanwhile, are aware that their matchup with the Wildcats is not one that requires their squad to be at full strength.
Schnur emphasized that this will be an opportunity for the freshmen to demonstrate their skill and gain some valuable early swim time before their Ivy League schedule begins in earnest.
“We might move some people around to different events, get a different look to our lineup. We’re going to train really hard this week and see what we have left on Saturday. I want to see what all the freshmen can do in this meet, like Austin Ryan in the sprints, see what Jackson O’Dowd’s got, Emilio DeSomma’s been getting a lot of opportunities.”
The younger racers should get take their chances when they get them, as Penn’s best performers show no signs of slowing down. Sophomore Mark Andrew has continued his fine form from last season and won the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle in last week’s Columbia-Army tri-meet with times of 23.62 and 24.71, respectively. Thomas Dillinger joined his second-year counterpart in capturing two victories in the 100 and 50-yard freestyle sprints. And senior captain Kevin Su took home first place in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:38.61.
While they may receive some respite this coming weekend, Penn’s A-team is training hard and already looking ahead to next weekend’s crucial Ivy tri-meet with Cornell and perennial powerhouse Princeton. If they’re complacent, however, the Wildcats won’t be afraid to pounce.