Two words can describe sophomore Miki Dahlke’s performance this year for the Harvard women’s swimming and diving team: domination and camaraderie.
Despite breaking multiple Blodgett Pool records and competing at the NCAA Championships for the second straight season, Dahlke has embodied a true team-oriented mentality that fuels both her own performance and that of her teammates.
During this year’s Ivy League Championships, Dahlke remembers the immense energy that her teammates provided her.
“Your teammates high-fiving you...you walk and you’re down below the stands and you look up, and all the family and friends and teammates cheering you on, and that brought a rush of adrenaline to me,” Dahlke said. “I’m doing it for them and I wasn’t thinking about the time.”
"It's not just that she challenges herself in the pool and in the weight room and pushes herself against her teammates every day, but it's also that she does the little things right," Harvard coach Stephanie Morawski '92 said.
For head coach Stephanie Morawski ’92, Dahlke’s year-long success was attributable to an impeccable work ethic.
“Of course we were very excited for Miki, but as a coach, I’m very process-oriented, so I was not as surprised maybe as others because I watch what Miki does on a daily basis,” Morawski said. “It’s not just that she challenges herself in the pool and in the weight room and pushes herself against her teammates every day, but it’s also that she does the little things right.”
These little things included eating and sleeping well, doing exercises for loose shoulders, which Morawski said helps distinguish “between someone being good and someone going on to be great.”
The Mill Valley, Calif., native’s success started right at the onset of the season. In the first dual meet of the season against Columbia, Dahlke finished first in the 200-yard freestyle. The next weekend, she took the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard butterfly and also anchored the group winning the 200-yard medley relay.
The top finishes kept on piling up, but Dahlke and the rest of her team had their eyes set on the Ivy League Championships at the end of the season. And that is where the sophomore truly shined.
In the second event of the meet, the 800-yard freestyle, Dahlke—along with Kennidy Quist, Geordie Enoch, and Meagan Popp—finished in a blazing time of 7:05.06, taking a meet record in the process. As always, Dahlke’s focus on community came through.
“Relays are one of my favorite parts of swimming because it’s the part where you can really see why swimming is not just an individual sport, it’s also a team sport because you’re coming together,” Dahlke said. “Even though you’re all swimming your own individual part, each person contributes in order to make a winning relay.”
Popp said that Dahlke’s focus on her team was admirable and displayed a level of maturity in the sophomore. It also didn’t hurt that she split a 1:45.00 in her first leg.
“It was really comforting for her to go first because she is such a strong force in that event, and having the lead that she did after the first leg I think was a confidence boost to the rest of us to keep the lead going and hold on until the end,” Popp said.
For tri-captain Kristina Li, Dahlke also made immediate positive first impressions.
“Right when she joined the team, she meshed really well with the team, and she’s a great athlete and a great teammate,” Li said. “Obviously, she trains really hard and has a great work ethic in the pool, but outside the pool, she’s got this really fun, silly personality.”
Li also noted that Dahlke’s performance in the pool helped to inspire the rest of the team as well.
“Obviously, Miki’s accomplishments are really great for her from an individual perspective, but it was really great for us as a team because we really ride off of each other’s energy and each other’s swims,” Li said. “When our team sees individuals perform and do really well, it fires everyone else up and keeps the momentum going.”
One of those inspiring moments came on the third day of the Ivy Championships, when Dahlke competed in both the 100-yard butterfly and 200-yard freestyle events.
“Freshman year we did not want her to do it because I didn’t know what she was capable of,” Morawski said. “I didn’t know her as well yet, and this past year at Texas, she did swim both, and looked up at myself and Coach Amanda and said, ‘I think that I can do it at Ivies,’ and we agreed. We knew it was going to be tough, and again, it was her team that carried her through.”
She crushed them both.
Dahlke broke the Blodgett Pool record in the 100-yard butterfly in 51.89 and then preceded to break the pool record in the 200-yard freestyle in 1:45.38. However, for Dahlke, her favorite moment of the race was not her own victory but the second place finish of fellow teammate Quist, who outtouched the third place finisher by one one-hundredth of a second.
“That was part of my favorite race of the meet I was a part of not because of what I did but because afterwards, seeing that Kennidy beat the defending champion by one-one hundredth and got second and had a crazy last 50 when she was behind by a body length,” Dahlke said.
Not done breaking records, Dahlke tied the meet record and broke the pool record in the 100-yard freestyle in 48.64 on the final day of competition. She was named the High Point Swimmer of the meet and helped Harvard capture its third Ivy League title in five years.
Dahlke said that she looks forward to the strong incoming freshman class and her teammates to compete with her at NCAAs. Coach Morawski recognized the greater leadership role the sophomore will provide in the future, especially in mentoring the younger incoming swimmers.
“Honestly they’re only going to reach their level if they follow Miki’s lead because freshman year can be challenging with the transitions, but if they do have someone who they respect, who goes that extra mile and mentors them, I think it can make a big difference in our entire team,” Morawski said.
—Staff writer Leon K. Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.