Coming in as a transfer during her sophomore year to escape a discouraging situation, senior Anna Kalandadze has settled into the Penn women’s swim team with ease and quickly grown into one of its star competitors.
At the University of California at Berkeley, Kalandadze swam under coach Teri McKeever, who, in May of this year, was accused of being a verbally abusive coach who employed bullying with her athletes.
“I had a terrible experience at my first university,” Kalandadze said. “It was a very toxic environment, in reference to the coach and the team ... Going through that, I learned a lot about myself. It really made me a stronger person and a better swimmer.”
Looking for a way out, Kalandadze talked with Penn coach Mike Schnur, which motivated her to transfer to Penn in her sophomore year, a decision that she firmly stands by.
“Just by talking with Mike Schnur over the phone, I could tell that this was a place that I really fit in,” she said. “I thought that I would be happy here.”
Like a hand in a glove, Kalandadze has slotted into the Penn team with splendid performances in the 2021-22 season. She earned a place in the All-Ivy second team with a second-place finish in the 1,000-yard free and a third-place finish in the 1,650 free at the Ivy Championships, and recently set an NCAA B-cut timing at the Zippy Invitational.
“I think last year’s Ivy League Championships has been my favorite moment so far,” Kalandadze said. “We swam well as a team. It was one of our highest finishes ever. I think having gone through everything that happened last year with our team, in that moment, we all came together.”
Hailing from Ardmore, Pa., Kalandadze started swimming at an early age and developed her passion early, despite a lack of familial experience in the pool.
“Nobody in my family really knows how to swim, so I was put into swim lessons to learn,” she said. “I fell in love with it and have been doing it ever since.”
Before starting her collegiate career, she swam at the club level, enjoying and making the most of the sport – winning three state championships in the 500m freestyle.
Kalandadze’s teammate, Lyndsey Reeve, fondly recalls the first time she met her.
“We started training together during the COVID year when she’d just transferred from Cal,” Reeve said. “She was just so bubbly and energetic, which was funny because she swims the toughest events. She always has an exciting, motivating attitude about it, though.”
Kalandadze’s emphasis on team spirit and morale shines through, and she appreciates the team culture that has been flourishing at Penn.
“Anytime you have a problem, you can always talk to your coaches or call one of your teammates,” she said. “We support each other in all aspects of life.”
Reeve echoes that sentiment, highlighting Kalandadze’s positive impact on the team.
“She is willing to do the events and the training sets that no one else wants to do,” Reeve said. “She really delivers for her teammates in that way. And she does it with a smile on her face in the name of her teammates. She does it to support us.”
Kalandadze is optimistic for the remainder of the season and has set her sights on a top-three Ivy finish for the team, as well as another nationals berth for herself. She attributes much of her and the team’s success to the people around her.
“I want to say thank you to my coaches and my teammates,” Kalandadze said. “They really have become my family and I probably would have quit swimming if it wasn't for them.”