Sophomore Danielle Lee is used to setting and breaking records.
When the Crimson swimmer helped her team win an Ivy League Championship a month ago, she broke the conference record for her 400-medley relay performance with a time of 52.77 seconds, and set a new record for Harvard too.
This past weekend Lee proved her times weren’t a fluke. The only Harvard woman to compete at the NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships, Lee swam personal bests in the 100 and 200 backstroke events, in addition to the 100 butterfly.
“It was an honor to represent Harvard,” said Lee, who was one of five Ivy League competitors at the meet. “Being able to just qualify for NCAAs is a great accomplishment and being able to represent Harvard was a bonus.”
Lee and her coach Stephanie Wriede Morawski ’92 were impressed and honored to have participated in the national meet that featured the best swimmers in the country and many of the fastest in the world.
“It’s a big scene,” Morawski said. “There are people walking around with the Olympic tattoos all over them. Every Olympian is practically here; so are the NCAA Champions. The best of the best are here. And so is Danielle Lee, and this is her first chance.”
Lee opened with the butterfly on Friday, finishing the first day of competition with the 100 backstroke. Though she did not place high enough to medal, her best times are ahead, according to Morawski.
“Danielle learned a lot and will know what to expect from the meet and the environment next year,” Morawski said. “Also, swimming a personal best in the morning bodes well for the future.”
While NCAA competitors typically race once per day, Lee chose to compete in the 100 butterfly in addition to her specialty backstroke events. The sophomore swam in the 100 and 200 backstroke events at three dual meets this year, winning the race each time.
“I’m very happy in hindsight that she did it because it got out some of the prerace jitters,” Morawski said. “Her kicks weren’t pulling her out ahead like they did in the Ivy League. I think it opened her eyes that you can say all you want, but this is a different scene and until you get in there and compete against those people it’s hard to really put yourself in that position.”
But after finishing her 100 butterfly, Lee was ready to go. With back-to-back events, the sophomore had little time to rest in between, yet returned for the 100 backstroke to place 32nd with a time of 53.39. On Saturday, Lee placed 30th in the 200 backstroke with a time of 1:55.70.
“I was incredibly impressed by her poise,” Morawski said of Lee’s second swim on Friday. “She shook off the first race, loosened up, and came back for the second one. Swimming is very mental. You need your brain to say ‘keep going, keep moving; do not stop no matter how much you hurt, just go faster.’ And that’s hard to make your body do, and she did it.”
Lee was just one member of a young team full of promising freshmen and sophomores this season, all prepared to continue the Crimson legacy in the future.
“If nothing else, it’s a great experience just being at this meet,” Morawski said. “We’re happy to be here and she’ll come back next year and know what to do.”
“Coming into NCAAs and seeing all the fast people definitely keeps me motivated and shows me that I still have work left to do,” Lee said. “I can still better my time and improve, and hopefully place higher next year.”
—Staff writer Orlea L. Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.