From Feb. 19 until Feb. 22, the men and women’s swimming and diving team took part in the Upper New York State Collegiate Swimming Association (UNYSCSA) championships to end its season. The championship tournament was held in Ithaca, NY, and was a historic meet for the Brewers. The team broke 19 school records and had numerous personal bests. Overall, the women’s team placed eighth out of the 15 competing teams. The 400-Meter Medley relay team of senior McKenzie Quinn, freshman Julia Cunningham and sophomores Lily Frye and Milee Nelson placed sixth and became the fastest 400-Meter Medley team in school history.
Senior co-captain Alison Burns was most impressed with the team’s performance and amount of record-breaking times. “I have never seen a more impressive States performance from the entire team in my four years at Vassar,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “With nearly 20 school records broken, and personal records across the board, it was a truly inspirational meet that we will remember for years to come,” she continued. Cunningham, who has already broken multiple records during her freshman year, expressed the same. “States was one of the most exciting meets I have been to in my swimming career,” she wrote. “Collectively, breaking almost 20 school records in four days of competition is crazy.”
In order to break so many records and personal bests, the team had weeks of hard work leading up to the championship. That process, also known as tapering, is often considered the hardest part of the season for swimmers. According to junior Olivia Harries, “Based on the swimmer’s specialty, taper starts a couple weeks before the championship meet. Generally, it consists of less-yardage, with higher intensity, and more rest.” She continued, “It is individually tailored to set the swimmer up for racing.”
Junior Zoe Fullerton added, “The tapering process is slightly scary, but also fun. It is very hard to trust sometimes, because it is very counterintuitive and does not always work, but I guess that is just part of the sport.” Burns noted that the tapering strategy of the coaches was extremely successful for the different swimmers on the team. “After months of high-yardage practices and intense lifting, dry-land, and swimming workouts, the weeks before a major meet—in this case States—we taper off in terms of practice yardage and intensity in order to be well-rested for the meet,” Burns explained in an emailed statement. “Tapering is different for sprinters, stroke swimmers, and distance swimmers, and each athlete responds very differently. Our coaches were successful in creating a taper program for each swimmer that catered to their swimming events and training needs.”
Cunningham also noted that, “A lot of people exceeded their expectations as a result of tapering. We had people jumping up a bunch of spots to top 24 to final and then passing even more people in the final. Towards the end of our duel meet season, we were getting tired and our enthusiasm was waning but we bounced back and trained hard and had a fantastic end of season.”
On the first day of the meet, the 200-Yard Medley squad of senior McKenzie Quinn, junior Elizabeth Balter, sophomore Lily Frye and freshman Julia Cunningham finished in eighth place, breaking a Vassar College swimming and diving record. Their official time was 1:52.18. Harries also managed to earn a personal best in the 500-Yard Freestyle with an official time of 5:14.44.
In addition to this, Quinn had a lifetime best in the 200 IM, finishing in 22nd place. On Feb. 20, the team reached seventh out of the 15 participating teams. Cunningham took third place in the 400-Yard Individual Medley and fourth in the 100-Yard Butterfly.
Cunningham, along with senior McKenzie Quinn and sophomores Milee Nelson and Lily Frye finished sixth in the 400-Yard Freestyle Relay. Senior co-captain Robin Lam had a team-best split in the 200 Freestyle Relay at 25.09.
The next day, the women finished seventh once again. Cunningham placed second in the 200-Yard Butterfly, and sixth in the 800-Yard Butterfly with teammate Nelson, junior Olivia Harries and sophomore Marie Schmidt. Nelson, Quinn and junior Elizabeth Balter each had lifetime bests in their events.
On the last day of the championships, the team finished in eighth place overall with 489.5 points. Host Ithaca College won with 1,443 points. Quinn finished the 200-Yard Backstroke in 24th place, while Harries managed to finish in sixth in the 1,650 Relay with an impressive time of 17:49.53. Burns and sophomore Marie Schmidt finished in 12th and 22nd place, respectively. In the 400-Yard Freestyle Relay, Balter, Cunningham, Frye and Lam finished in 11th place to end the championship games.
Overall, it was an extremely successful four days for the team. “The meet went phenomenally well. I am unbelievably proud of what our team has accomplished in the past week and the entire season. I would not have wanted to end my swimming career with any other team,” explained Quinn in an emailed statement.
“It was the most successful states since I began swimming at Vassar,” she continued. “We came together as a team and really established ourselves as serious competitors.” Frye added, “The only word that can describe the meet is grueling. Two five-hour sessions every day, wake-up at 7:15, eat, swim, eat swim, dinner at 10:30 then repeat. A lot of people put pressure on themselves to do really well in the last meet, and most achieve those goals with a lot of personal bests!”
Frye continued to say that, “I am just so proud of myself and my team for surviving the season! Swimming is over 20 hours a week of training alone, and that does not include team dinners, waking up super early, and traveling to away meets. No matter what, I am so proud of my team for being incredibly strong, ambitious, and fast!”
Besides grueling practices and hard work, the team’s success was in no small part due to the unique chemistry and camaraderie amongst the swimmers.
For example, the team made a video tribute while at the meet for freshman Julia Wieczorek who was sick and unable to attend the UNYSCSA championships. “The success of our season is measured not just in the races we have won and the times we have swam, but the growth of each swimmer contributing to the growth of the team – in strength, mentality, support, and sportsmanship,” Wieczorek wrote in an emailed statement. “In this way, our team has gone above and beyond what was expected, and we can look forward to even more successful seasons in the coming years.”
In addition to this, Fullerton wanted to make sure the seniors received due praise: “Shout-out to all the seniors for absolutely killing it with their last races/the entire last meet.” Co-captain Burns also added, “The swim meet was an indescribable experience that I will never forget. I am most proud of the camaraderie we have developed this season and the support everyone showed each other throughout this season.”
She continued, “Our energy and drive carried through our final meet of the season, which, as a senior, was my final meet ever. I am very lucky to have ended my swimming career on such a positive note and could not have done so without my teammates around me. I am looking forward to the Vassar Swim program’s development and all it has in store.”