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If you missed the Olympics this summer, you will have a chance to catch a repeat performance this year at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool.
Three incoming freshman along with junior Noelle Bassi, who will be swimming in her first meet for the Crimson women’s swimming and diving team this fall, qualified for and competed in this summer’s United States Olympic Trials from July 7-14 in Long Beach, Calif. Freshman Jackie Pangilinian even got to travel to and compete in Athens as the sole women’s qualifier and swimming competitor for the Philippines, where her dad is originally from.
“It was hands down the best experience of my life,” Pangilinian said. “There was a great camaraderie between all the teams. It was one of the most relaxed meets I’ve been too.”
But Pangilinian has a different view of the trials. She didn’t view them as a fun event but rather said that “they were really stressful, cutthroat and competitive.” While Pangilian viewed the atmosphere as a bit unfriendly, freshman Lindsay Hart loved the experience of the trials and everything that came with them.
“You are nervous for [the trials] but you are also in such awe,” Hart said. “It makes you want to work harder and train so that you can do that again in four years.”
But luckily head coach Stephanie Wriede Morawski ’92 doesn’t like to put too much pressure on her six new freshman swimmers and two freshman divers. She wants to make their transition into the Harvard swimming program as easy and stress free as possible. Morawski also has a policy to swim an upperclassman in every event along with her freshman swimmers. She wants her freshman to understand that they are not alone.
“[I want them to know that] the weight of the team does not ride on their shoulders,” Morawski said. “If one of [the freshmen] is having a bad day, hopefully someone else will pick up the points.”
Morawski is very proud of the depth of her swimming team. This allows her to provide her freshman an environment with a lot less pressure and stress.
“As with the other upperclassmen, we have a lot of responsibility to help the freshman and to help with team bonding,” Bassi said.
But Pangilinian, along with classmates Hart and Bridget O’Connor have a lot to offer this swimming team. All three had impressive showings in the intrasquad meet with Hart winning the backstroke, O’Connor winning the breaststroke and Pangilinian finishing right behind Bassi in both the fly and freestyle.
Bassi transferred from Tennessee to Harvard after her freshman year but was required to sit out of intercollegiate competition her sophomore year because of her transfer. Tennessee could have chosen to unbind Bassi from the requirement, but they refused to do so.
“It was very difficult practicing and not being able to compete,” Bassi said. “But, in retrospect, I think it was beneficial for me and for the team. I was able to push people in practice, while learning how to support the team in ways other than swimming fast.”
While she was prohibited from competing for the Crimson, she was allowed to participate in training with the team, and took part in outside competitions, earning a silver medal in the Pan American games and winning the national championship in the 200-meter butterfly in 2003.
But Bassi contributed to her team in other ways by cheering on her teammates from the sidelines.
Morawski said that it was hard for Bassi to have to watch her teammates compete in important meets, such as the Ivy Championship.
“[But her time off] made her even more excited to compete for Harvard this year,” Morawski said. “[She became] more of a leader on land and a very positive force for the team.”
But while all of these girls demand a certain amount of respect because of their Olympic accomplishments, the Harvard women’s swimming and diving team works and competes together as a team.
“We don’t hold people up and put them up on a pedestal,” Morawski said. “The team comes first.”
And the team atmosphere is exactly why some of these swimmers choose to come to atmosphere.
“I especially love my class and love hanging out with them,” Hart said. “I hope that I can be another friend to lean on when someone’s having an off day.”
After a disappointing second place finish in last year’s Ivy Championships, losing to Princeton by only 16 points, the Harvard women’s swimming and diving team is ready to take on the challenge of a new season.
Both the swimmers and Morawski have faith though that this will be their year to finally win Ivies. They don’t want the feeling of second place again.
“I know we can do it,” Morawski said. “We have a great group of women.”
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