a feature by Ishita Tibrewal '18, MHC tennis player
The 2014-15 season was very successful for the Mount Holyoke College swimming & diving team, as the group set a number of different individual and relay records at both the program and conference level. Among the many highlights to the season included the 2015 Seven Sisters Championship, which saw the Lyons finish second overall in the meet, which was hosted at the MHC Natatorium. Individually, four swimmers on the squad were named to the All-Tournament Team.
Mount Holyoke, which was the recipient of the 2015 NEWMAC Sportsmanship Award, followed up that performance with a seventh-place finish at the NEWMAC Championships at WPI. That meet saw junior Cathleen Pruden win three individual victories on her way to being named the conference Swimmer of the Year.
Pruden went on to compete at the 2015 NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships in Shenandoah, Texas. Swimming in three different events, she earned National All-America in the 400-Individual Medley, becoming the only swimmer in MHC history to finish in the top-eight twice at Nationals.
Additionally, nine members of the team were named to the NEWMAC Academic All-Conference team, while the College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) tabbed the Lyons as an NCAA Division III Scholar All-America team for the Fall of 2014. The squad had the 15th best cumulative grade point average among Division III women’s teams – and the best among all NEWMAC squads.
A sport with one of the longest single seasons, the swimming & diving team starts practicing in September until the end of February – and as with the past season for Nationals into the end of March. The squad practices six days a week for two hours a day. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the entire team can be found in the Lyons Den at 6:15am.
Swim meets are generally three to four hour affair, sometimes longer depending on the type of competition. That demand could take a tough toll on the student-athletes, but many have found the balance. When asked how she manages academics and athletics, junior Sarah Crocker said, “being on the swimming team helps me not procrastinate.”
“You don’t every really get used to balancing it, but you know you have to do it.” Crocker explained. She loves being a Division III athlete because “being an athlete isn’t our job, but we are allowed to prioritize athletics and compete at a very high level.”
Swimming helped her realize that “with a lot of hard work you can achieve things you didn’t think you could.” The choice to go to Mount Holyoke was an easy one for Crocker, who loved the people and the environment of the college. She knew Mount Holyoke would be a perfect fit for her academically, and that here she would find the best level of competition.
TAKING NEW RISKS
Junior Kelly Lim had been doing track since she was young. She was also a rhythmic gymnast. When she came to Mount Holyoke she had no intention of joining the swimming and diving team. That changed after she attended an orientation activity organized by the International Student Athlete committee. “Aldo (Santiago, the tennis coach) suggested I look into diving. He said that diving is the new gymnastics.”
When Lim met head coach, Dave (Allen) “he was very welcoming and open and ready” for her to take up diving. But she wasn’t sure if she wanted to dive. She considered herself a “land person.” Her parents also did not want her to take up diving since they thought it was dangerous but eventually told her “you should do whatever you want when you’re young.”
According to Lim, when she started diving, things started off ok and she learned pretty fast. It took her some time to learn one dive which limited the number of competitions she took part in during her first year, but in her sophomore year things started to get better. “I managed to step up a lot during my junior year and got rid of my bad diving habits.” It was also in her junior year that she took part in the NEWMAC’s for the first time and started competing in the 3-meter dive.
Lim is also on the track team and is involved in a number of on-campus organizations. She also volunteers at Springfield every weekend. “I manage my time better and push myself further if I have things to do.” She likes challenges and enjoys doing things that push her, but says that she also knows her boundaries and what she can and cannot do. She says that her team and her friends are her biggest support system. Lim is proud of everything the team has achieved- especially the NEWMAC sportsmanship award.
CAPITALIZING ON HARD WORK
Backstroker, Anne Kuenning performed really well in the NEWMACs this year and was also a part of various record-breaking relays. When asked about her NEWMAC experience, Kuenning said that her team was “super supportive.”
“We stuck together and swam for eachother,” Kuenning explained. When she was swimming her events at the Championships, her teammates would stand at both ends of the pool cheering for her. “Knowing that your entire team is not resting but is cheering you and supporting you makes you do better.”
The NEWMACs is an incredibly long meet, lasting four straight days. Swimmers have to keep swimming constantly and keep motivating themselves and their teammates. They also have to be careful to not over exhaust themselves. Each swimmer usually swims four relays and three individual events and has to swim the event twice if she qualifies for the finals.
Kuenning had made it to the top-10 in backstroke in the NEWMAC’s for the first time earlier this year. “It was fun to be a part of it and to be able to live up to my goals.” Annie says that her team also received a lot of support from the swimmers from Smith and Wellesley. “We were swimming with them rather than against them.”
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Cailin Van Nevel’s mother was “very strategic with convincing her youngest daughter to come to Mount Holyoke.” The Lyons first year had grown up hearing her mother talk about Mount Holyoke and its amazing traditions, being a graduate herself.
“Growing up I always had a mountain day.” Van Nevel explained. Her mom would always pick a nice day and take her children on their own Mountain Day, instead of going to school. Being able to experience the traditions at home made her even more excited to be in South Hadley and experience them herself.
When it came time for Van Nevel to choose a school, her mother did have her opinions, but always made sure her daughter knew that it was her choice.“My mom always talked about M&C’s, the other traditions and how beautiful the campus was.” Not only did her mother participate on the rowing and swimming teams at MHC, but her aunt was also a member of the swim team at Mount Holyoke.
A three-sport athlete during her high school career, Van Nevel admitted she was a little intimidated to try out for the team at MHC, having been more of a recreational swimmer most of her life. Another reason she wasn’t certain on being a part of a varsity team was the ability to handle athletics and academics.
One of the factors that influenced her decision was the amazing team atmosphere, while the other was, in part, the family legacy. Van Nevel recalls one of the coolest things was talking about a record set by someone her mother had once swam with at MHC. Without telling her the swimmer’s name, her mother was able to tell her so much about that particular record-setter.
“Someday, I want my daughter to see Cathleen’s (Pruden) name on that board and ask me about it, so that I can proudly say that I was a part of the same team when she was here swimming and setting records.”
First year Claire Beckett almost quit swimming in her junior year of high school because she wasn’t happy. She had had “multiple extremely disappointing championships and swimming seemed more like a chore.” But that changed when she arrived in South Hadley and began swimming for Mount Holyoke. The team helped reaffirm her love for the sport.
“I’ve had some disappointing results, but I feel the level of support on this team goes far beyond just what you would do in the pool,” she explained. “I can always look to my teammates for help with issues with friends, family school and swimming.”
Beckett was surprised by how fast the team got close to the first years and incorporated them, adding that she had never met people who “enjoy training. Training is terrible. It’s just two and half-hours of difficult swimming. But having the team atmosphere we have, it really didn’t seem as much of a chore as it could be.”
The team remained positive through out the season and was quick at bouncing back from disappointments. “If we had (an) off meet or didn’t beat who we wanted to beat, we just regrouped, trained even harder the next week and came back next weekend to swim even harder.”
Beckett feels that “the presence that the athletic department has in a student athlete’s life is awesome. You really feel like they care about what you do and how you are doing outside your sport. Mount Holyoke can be a stressful place at time. The knowledge of people having your back, trusting, encouraging and motivating you makes you better and more confident.”
When asked why she is at a Division III school, Beckett said “I wanted my academics to be my first priority without sacrificing my competitive nature because I’ve done sports since (I was) four. It’s really become a part of me. I feel like competition has shaped who I am today. (It) helps me expect more from myself.”
“When I think of why I love swimming on the MHC swimming and diving team, I can't help laughing because no matter how hard I try there is no one, good, holistic answer. I love it for the team, the coaches, the sport, and the spirit of competition. I swim for every time I've cried, every time I've cheered, and every time my mind has been blown by the amazing things this team and its leadership does.’
‘I love it for every moment I fell asleep on the bus with my teammates, every time I looked up to my upperclassman, and every time I was delighted by the fresh personalities arriving every year. I didn't do it for one person, for one thing, or even for myself. I love it for sake of them, and for the sake of everything.”
As a senior, Maya Lazarovich says her biggest fear was discouraging her teammates in any way from being passionate about their swimming goals.
“Whether we are killing our splits, tearing up the gym, making healthy choices, sticking to our recovery plans, providing moral support, or scrutinizing our studies, we are representing a tradition of excellence, effort, and inclusivity that's worth the upmost respect. Often, that establishes a lot of pressure but the prospect of championing those expectations is too energizing a feeling to not share with our cohorts. Even at times when I fell short of my own expectations, I practiced being open and honest about my ongoing love for the chase of my goals. I wanted to show my teammates that it's ok to still want to succeed, even during those darker times when you feel like you're doing the exact opposite. My biggest hope is that I provided an example of trust and love in the sport, the team, the coaches, and most importantly, your personal vision yourself.”