When Harvard claimed the 2014 Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championship back in February, coach Stephanie Wriede Morawski '92 didn’t attribute the win to any individual performances.
She instead characterized the victory as a test of the team’s ability to respond to adversity, with the swimmers and divers finding strength in one another at the Crimson’s most important meet of the year.
“Everyone had a role to play on the team, and roles can change at any given point, but the team comes first,” Morawski said. “Every individual is secondary to the greater good of the team. That has to be the way it is if you’re going to try and win a championship. They really believed it.”
Harvard won the championship in 2012, but after going undefeated the folowing year, lost the title to Princeton.
“I think we were the fastest team in the Ivy League last year,” Morawski said. “When we were challenged for the first time in the Championships [last year], they didn’t know what to do. This year, when we lost the first meet of the season [to Columbia], it was an eye opener for all of them and the expectations were off. [The upperclassmen] kept looking at what they were doing, and looking long-term and knew they were going to be working on the process all the way through.”
The Crimson faced challenges all season long, including injuries and illnesses, but the squad’s success can be attributed to overcoming these obstacles.
“It was people pulling through and grabbing points or picking people up in spirit,” co-captain Deirdre Clute said. “We had the strongest team that faced the most adversity that I’ve seen in four years, and was better because of it and was the best because of it.”
Recognizing that seniors essentially shape the team, the captains and coach emphasized the importance of cohesiveness from the start, divvying up responsibilities to ensure every member contributed to the team’s collective performance throughout.
“I just felt lucky to be in a class with some of the most amazing girls that I have ever met in my entire life,” Clute said. “Our goal of the season was to make sure that we showcased the best form of unity and strength as a senior class as we could, so hopefully it would spread to future classes. We have a lot of different personalities, and we just found where our strengths and weaknesses were.”
After the slow start, the turning point was the team’s annual Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet, from which the Crimson emerged victorious for the third year in a row.
“After training abroad and then on campus during J-term, the ball was rolling,” co-captain Dani Schulkin said. “We were fighting hard because we knew what it felt like to lose to Columbia, and we didn’t want to do that again. And the night before [Ivies], there were motivational talks and tears. You could feel the energy running through our hands, our fingers, our hearts.”
Although the swimmers may have had rocky start at the Championships, the divers stepped up on day one. Freshman Elina Leiviskä, senior Alex Stanton, junior Schuyler Moore and classmate Cassie Corneau all placed in the top eight of the 1-meter dive.
“[The divers] gave us enough points to keep our heads up and keep pushing through the rest of the meet,” Clute said. “That was one of the keys to our success this year.”
Sophomore Danielle Lee contributed to the team’s victory by qualifying for the NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships. But her performance, personal best times in the 100 and 200 backstroke events and the butterfly, left no one in shock.
“To go those times, you have to do even more amazing things in practice,” Schulkin said. “As wonderful and as excited as I was when Danielle Lee got 52.77 [in the 400 medley relay performance at Ivies], I wasn’t necessarily surprised. I was just proud that her hard work in the water shined.”
Putting the emphasis on the team’s efforts as a whole, both Schulkin and Clute recognized a shift in mentality that carried them through the entirety of the season.
“We didn’t walk in there and win because we knew we were going to win and we were the best,” Clute said. “We won because we were the strongest, and we were the ones that could push through, and we came together as a team more than I’ve ever seen us do.”
After a successful season, Clute believes the team can repeat as champions next year.
“If we keep our focus on ourselves, and what we do best as a team, then I have no doubt that we can handle whatever is thrown our way and whatever comes next year because our team is strong enough that we can push through anything when we stick together,” Clute said.
—Staff writer Orlea L. Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.