Matthew Fallon certainly turned heads with his appearance at the NCAA Division I Championships this past spring, and the 2020 Olympic Trials the year prior. But this summer, he demanded attention with a performance that coronated him as a growing phenom just beginning to fit into his best form.
“I’d say I focused on improving my overall skill set,” Fallon said. “Separating the kick and the pull a little bit was something small that I put into my training, that I think helps in the long run. But this summer was just all about improving and building on what I had done previously in the year.”
With months ahead until the beginning of the winter season with Penn, Fallon is letting his highest standards set themselves.
“My goal is always to just improve. I sort of set goals as they come,” Fallon said. “I haven’t pinpointed any goals for the season yet. Right now, I’m just working on improving even further.”
Fallon competed at the annual Phillips 66 National Championships in Irvine, Calif., where he claimed first place in the 200-meter breaststroke. Against a field of seven other competitors — all but one of whom older than he was — the rising sophomore emerged victorious with a time of 2:07.91, good for No. 7 all-time in United States history.
His top finish is yet another addition to Fallon’s already impressive list of accolades in the 200 breast this year, having earned first-team All-American honors at the NCAA Division I Championships — something no Quaker had done since Mark Andrew in 2019 — and a conference title at the Ivy League Championships.
But before stamping his name in the national eyesight, Fallon pushed through the learning curve of adjusting to collegiate-level swimming as any student-athlete would.
“The entire team [was] training at such a high level,” he said. “[Penn] made me realize that this was a step up from back home.”
A Warren, N.J. native who honed his talents at The Pingry School, Fallon earned the still-standing YMCA national record in the 400 Individual Medley, won YMCA national championships in three events, and finished eighth in the 200 breast at the 2020 Olympic Trials — the highest-ever finish for someone 18 or younger.
Behind these achievements was the diligence and patience to adapt.
“I built confidence through the first two months of the season when I knew I was going to be able to handle the practices,” he said.
In Fallon’s first competition with Penn, a November dual meet against Columbia, Fallon finished first in both the 100 breast and 200 IM, and second in the 500 freestyle.
Fallon continued to impress as the season charged on. Podium finishes became of habit, and he continued to shave seconds off his 100 breast time between the Columbia meet and Ivy League Championships in late February.
However, during the season, one highlight particularly stands out. At December’s Zippy Invitational in Akron, Ohio, Fallon set the Penn program record in the 100 breast with a time of 51.45.
At the Ivy Championships, Fallon finished second in the 100 breast and first in the 200 breast, helping the Quakers take third at the meet.
The next month, Fallon qualified for the NCAA Division I Championships in both the 100 and 200 breast. In the former, his 10th-place finish was good enough for an All-American honorable mention, but in the latter, his third-place finish of 1:49.16 earned Fallon first-team All-American honors.
For much of the summer, Fallon was packed up away from Penn to train in Georgia with the Athens Bulldogs Swim Club. Fallon enjoyed the new environment, especially as he experienced a contrasting method from Penn, and was able to build breadth in his strengths. Specifically, he noted Penn’s focus on power and volume, compared to a greater emphasis on pace and technique in Georgia.
Fallon participated in several meets this summer — including the GA ABSC Bulldog Summer Invite and the Georgia LC Senior State Championship — both of which led up to the National Championships, where Fallon took home a victory.
Even after pocketing several successes on the national level, Fallon looks forward to returning to Penn in the fall, where he’ll continue his competition representing the Red and Blue.
“I’m excited to see everyone again when I get back to campus,” he said. “I’m excited to spend another year working with the swim team at Penn and build on the success that not only I had last year, but that we had as a team.”