After winning 44 of their last 45 games over the past five seasons, including a city championship last year, the Penguins, Stuyvesant’s girls’ swimming team, look to win their second championship in a row.
However, the Penguins have had a few issues to address on their search for a repeat. Some key swimmers graduated last year, so the team needed to rebuild. “We were a little bit worried,” senior and co-captain Katherine Dease said. “We lost nine seniors, and they were all our starters. We had a really good team this season, they all happened to be from the younger grades, but they definitely stepped up.” They certainly did just that, as the Penguins won all eight of their regular season meets and entered the playoffs as the first-seeded team.
The Penguins attribute their consistency over the past two years to Coach Kristen Sabala, who has led the team to two undefeated seasons in as many years, including the championship in her very first season as the coach. “Basically, our coach really knows how to deal with all our strengths and weaknesses,” senior and co-captain Stephanie Jou said. “We work with what we have and we just try to make it better.”
Most of the credit, however, belongs to the swimmers themselves. “The girls are all really hard workers and are very dedicated. They swim five days a week,” Sabala said. “They all work well together.” The Penguins have had several outstanding swimmers help them come out victorious. One of these swimmers, junior Ashley Qian finished first in 18 of her 20 races this year, including setting a school record in the 100m backstroke. “I’ve been improving in all my strokes,” Qian said. “I know if I can work a little harder, I could definitely break it again.”
Ironically, their seeding caused the Penguins to be paired with Bronx High School of Science Wolverines, the team that dealt them their only regular season loss in five years. The Wolverines also beat the Penguins in the semifinals just three years ago. After defeating Bronx Science earlier in the year by a score of 78-24, the Penguins quickly disposed of the Wolverines once again. They overwhelmed them 68-34 in the quarterfinals on Thursday, November 5. The Penguins showed their dominance in the meet, securing first place in every race, with their only non-first place finish handed to them in diving. “We were pretty confident. We put all our best people in there. It was really well played,” Qian said.
The Penguins advanced in the playoffs to face off against the Townsend Harris Turtles in the semifinals on Tuesday, November 11. The Penguins defeated the Turtles in the city championship last year, and although Townsend Harris may have hoped for an upset against the higher seeded Stuyvesant, this was not to be. Stuyvesant dominated the semifinal meet with a score of 68-34. Stuyvesant’s A team in the 200 yard medley relay, led by Qian and senior and co-captain Emma Dries, secured first place. The Penguins had first place finishers in all but three individual races.
After winning in the semifinals, the Penguins also won the swimming Opens, or PSAL Swimming and Diving Championships, on Saturday and Sunday, November 14 and 15. Even if a swimmer hasn’t made the cut time to qualify for States, placing first at opens automatically qualifies that swimmer to compete at the statewide competition, which will be held from Saturday, November 20th to Sunday, 21st in Rochester, NY. Unlike in the dual meet season, swimmers with qualifying times from multiple teams across the city compete at Opens. Qian did not place first at opens, but qualified for States cut times earlier in the season in the 100 yard backstroke, breaking the school record with a time of 1:01:43.
Although they will be swimming against a lower seeded Brooklyn Tech in the championships, the Penguins cannot afford to be complacent. Tech is coming off an upset of the second seeded Francis Lewis High School, and will definitely be a tough team to beat. The Penguins, however, are extremely confident going into the city championship. “We need to fine-tune everyone’s stroke, and we should have a good chance to repeat,” Sabala said.
Others see the second consecutive championship as a sure thing. “We are definitely coming out as winners,” Qian said.