They’ve got depth and versatility in spots one through 11. They’ve got experience across the board. They’ve got all-conference selections left and right.
Sounds like the makings of a championship team, but it’s not quite that. Rather, this group of 11 female juniors combines to form a house, and in the process, perhaps one of the more unique bonds Penn Athletics has ever seen.
The group includes an all-star cast of athletes: all six juniors on Penn gymnastics, four of the five juniors on Penn field hockey (the fifth, Kelsey Mendell, transferred to Penn from Providence after the group had already agreed to rent the house), and field hockey player-turned-rower and DP sports staff writer Reina Kern. The 11 have lived together since the start of their sophomore year, facilitating an unforeseen bond between their respective teams in the process.
“My favorite thing is just being able to live with my best friends, being able to come home and go up to anyone in the house and feel comfortable,” said junior gymnast Caroline Moore, the Ivy League’s defending champion in vault. “You wake up and you’re in the kitchen, and there’s someone there wanting to know how you’re doing.”
As recently as two years ago, field hockey and gymnastics weren’t any closer than any other Penn teams. But gymnastics then-senior Morgan Venuti happened to share a large off-campus house with a variety of senior athletes, including a few field hockey players.
Simultaneously, then-freshmen Karen Seid of field hockey and Morgan Hunker of gymnastics were roommates after connecting via Facebook, and quickly became friendly with both each other and the other’s respective teammates.
With the house vacated after Venuti’s class graduated, and the growing rapport between Hunker’s and Seid’s teammates, the arrangement almost made too much sense, and the rest was history.
“I got to know her team really well, because they invited me to a lot of events they did together, and I invited them to a lot of events we did together, so we knew that our teams got along really well,” Seid said. “We were both looking for housing, and we always have a good time together, so it was a perfect match.”
Seeing two different Penn teams share a tight friendship isn’t uncommon by any means. Teams like men’s and women’s swimming, fencing, and track and field share the same coaching staffs and therefore practice simultaneously. Even for teams with different coaches, those that play the same sport often share a special bond. For example, one might see the whole men’s or women’s basketball team in the crowd when the other one has a home game.
But for two teams that play entirely different sports, whose contests are in different times of the calendar year, and who don’t even practice in the same general area of campus to share a friendship like this is relatively unprecedented. And it’s not one that either group takes for granted.
“It’s really fun to hear about their day, and their sport, and how their sport is so different, so it’s just cool to get a different perspective when half their day is different from ours,” field hockey junior Rachel Mirkin said. “They even try to teach me tricks in the house sometimes, but that doesn’t work out too well.”
That mutual appreciation for what goes on behind closed doors leads to a whole new support system when both teams hit the big stage. Because the teams play in different seasons, only one team can be in game mode at any given point. And when that time comes, each team knows who its biggest fans are going to be.
“I really like how we can support each other in athletics,” junior gymnast Nicole Swirbalus, a defending USA Gymnastics All-American, said. “It’s kind of a community separate from my team, in that we’ll go to all the field hockey games and then they’ll come to our meets, so it’s really increased our bond in that way.”
So as the athletes approach their third and final year living together, they’re all aware of one thing: though their careers as students and athletes are temporary, their bonds with one another are forever.
“It’s just an amazing feeling to have 10 other girls be in the same position that I’m in and be able to relate to them, and I know that these friendships won’t scratch at the end of next year,” Moore said.
“I know that after we graduate, we’ll always keep in touch and we’ll wanna know how we’re doing, because we’ve just become that close.”