It's officially opening weekend for Penn swimming and diving.
With both men's and women's swimming and diving coming off winning seasons, both squads are looking to dominate Columbia in their first competitions of the season. This meet carries some extra weight as well, because in addition to it being an Ivy matchup, it could serve as a major momentum-builder for the Quakers.
Both the men's captain, senior Taylor Uselis, and the women's captain, senior Virginia Burns, are anxious to start the season with a bang and dominate an Ivy rival right off the bat.
“We've been itching to compete for weeks now,” Uselis said. “We are a very young team this year, so for a lot of guys this is their first college competition. It's always nerve-racking to be competing for Penn for the first time, but everyone is ready to race.”
“We’re really getting excited to have the chance to get up and race. There are some nerves as there are for any competition, but overall the anticipation of meets in general has been getting us through our training,” Burns added.
For the men, Columbia proved to be a competitive team last year, going 5-2 in Ivy competition, including a victory over the Red and Blue. On the women’s side, however, the Lions struggled on their way to notching only one Ivy League victory over Dartmouth.
Regardless of their opponents' success last season, both Penn teams are going in with the ultimate goal of swimming their best races to put themselves in good position to leave New York with a win.
Both squads have been readying for race day for some time now. They’ve been preparing to break into the top of the Ivy league and show the conference that Penn is a force to be reckoned with.
For the women to do that, the Quakers know that they will also have to overcome Ancient Eight powerhouses Princeton and Harvard.
“A team goal [this season] is to break into the top 3 in the league at the end of the season. Historically, these spots have been held by Harvard, Princeton and Yale,” Burns said. “We’ve placed 4th every year [at the Ivy League Championships], so we’re looking to keep our sights set high and leave the program in a fantastic spot.”
Finding success in the pool this season is especially important for the team's seniors, who will also be hoping to qualify for NCAA's in their last chance before graduating.
“I’m standing firm with the senior class, who as a whole is really just looking to leave everything they’ve got in the water,” Burns said.
The men are hoping to build off of their second place finish at the 2016 Ivy League championships, and ultimately want to finish in the top 25 nationally.
As the men prepare for Columbia, they know that there’s some stiff competition ahead of them.
“We are expecting tough competition from Columbia this year, as in past years,” Uselis noted. "Last years' close loss was one of the best meets we swam as a team, and we want to repeat that elite level of dual meet swimming again this year."
The women are approaching the dual meet with the same mentality. Columbia is a skilled team, and the Quakers feel they have to be in midseason form to get the results they are hoping for.
“We go into every meet with the mentality that we’re just there to race as fast as we can. I’ve seen some great work put in by our 200-[yard] butterfly group, as well as our 200-[yd] breaststroke group,” Burns explained.
Both captains believe the freshman will bring a lot to their respective teams this season, being that there are a large number of them.
“I think any event featuring any of our freshmen could be very exciting — they’re a great class with a lot of heart and a lot of drive,” Burns said.
"I expect big swims from most of our freshmen class, as they're the best class I've seen come into Penn for us. Specifically Will Thomas in distance events and Sean Lee in fly and IM both in this meet and throughout the year,” Uselis added.
Every new season brings new opportunity and new faces in the water. With that mentality in mind, the Quakers look forward to attacking and winning every race that lies ahead.